Standing in mudcaked shoes just beyond the finish line as they tried to catch their breath, South Whidbey senior Sophia Morgan and freshman Flannery Friedman embraced. Then they cried.
The pair had just qualified for the Class 1A state cross country championships after finishing in the top 35 at Saturday’s district meet at South Whidbey High School. Morgan finished ninth overall after running the rainsoaked and muddy 5,000-meter course in 21 minutes. Friedman was not far behind; she finished 19th with a time of 21 minutes and 32 seconds.
They will be joined by sophomore boys runner Callahan Yale, who placed 10th with a time of 17 minutes and 16 seconds. Only the top 28 boys advanced.
The meet will be held on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
It was an all-around emotional day for Morgan, who transferred from Liberty High School prior to the season so she could spend her last year in her hometown of South Whidbey.
“I actually cried before the race, too,” Morgan said. “I was like, ‘Guys, I love you, this is so awesome to spend my senior year with you.’”
Morgan said the course was the muddiest she’s ever raced on after hard rainfall hit the course in the morning and early afternoon. Like most other runners, her time was slowed by around a minute. Instead, she focused on placing as high as she could.
Though the rain stopped when the 1A races began, the course was still muddy. She compensated by taking it one step at a time and was careful to watch her footing. Morgan said in one of the races prior to the 1A girls competition, a slew of 15 runners were wiped out in one spot due to the mud.
Her former teammates at Liberty were also on-hand to celebrate the moment she qualified for state. Liberty’s girls team won the Class 2A division.
“It was really emotional to see them all again and they were cheering me on my whole race,” Morgan said. “I was cheering them on during my warm-ups.”
Morgan hopes to break 20 minutes at the state meet. She said if there’s one positive about going to Eastern Washington, it’s the dry weather.
“I think I might actually have a chance to do that because it will be the first time running on a super dry, flat course,” Morgan.
Friedman was also grappling with a flurry of feelings after the race.
“I’m really excited and proud,” Friedman said. “It means a lot, because I feel like it’s the start of a good high school career.”
The rest of the day was filled with heartbreak, however. Junior Elizabeth Donnelly, who qualified for state in 2015, missed out on the same this by one placing — she finished 36th overall. Senior Cory Ackerman was in a similar boat; he missed qualifying for state by two places.
Both the boys and girls teams narrowly fell short of qualifying for state, too. The top five teams in the girls division and top four in the boys advanced.
The Falcon boys and girls teams finished seventh.
Senior boys Collin Burns, Justin Gonzales and Will Simms finished 37th, 41st and 46th overall, respectively. Senior girls runner Bethany Justus finished 61st overall.
Head coach Doug Fulton said the boys race was extremely competitive and that the team ran as hard as it could. The boys were runner-up in the Cascade Conference meet a week prior, after excessive flooding caused it to be rescheduled.
“It is hard to come back five days later and be at the top of your game,” Fulton said in an email. “But, I am proud in the way they competed, trained and prepared.”
Yale said the competition was so tough that there wasn’t a moment where he could ease off the gas. He was also racing to place as high as he could for his teammates in the hopes they could qualify for state together.
Yale was proud to be moving on to represent the boys team. He said he had a strong second half of the season, improving his time on the same course earlier in the season by over a minute.
“It feels like I’ve been working so hard for this over the past few months,” Yale said. “I’m dead right now. I just gave it all I had in that race.”