Senior boys’ cross country runners summer prep to prove valuable | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

South Whidbey seniors Collin Burns (left) and Will Simms (right) are among four veterans who have compiled 400 miles of running this summer.

The four seniors on the South Whidbey boys cross country team — Cory Ackerman, Justin Gonzales, Collin Burns and Will Simms — had a simple theme this summer: Run. Run, and then run some more.

Falcon head coach Doug Fulton said the seniors’ disciplined training regimen compiled over 400 miles around South Whidbey. They have reason to work hard, too. They narrowly missed a shot at advancing to the Class 1A cross country state championships in 2015 at the district meet after missing a qualifying spot by four points. Runners advance to state by placing high as an individual or as a team. Untimely injuries and a dose of strong running by other teams were the major culprits in the denial of a bid to state.

“Last year, we had it really close trying to make it to state,” Gonzales said. “We’re really pushing it this year to try and make it.”

In cross country, it takes between 22 and 24 weeks to maximize running ability, Fulton said. The cross country season is only eight weeks long. Having utilized the summer months, the boys are right where they should be, he said.

“You got to start building in June, so that’s the key point,” Fulton said. “We always say championships are won in the summer because you have to slowly build up your base.”

Fulton said the most important aspect was the boys’ willingness to push one another to continue training. If one or two trained, the rest would follow. His outlook for the boys team is positive, as he feels they may even be a better unit than last season. If they continue training hard and have solid contributions from younger runners, Fulton is confident they have a chance to qualify as a team. Burns and Simms said sophomore Callahan Yale also has a chance to break onto the scene and make an impact for the team. Freshmen Michael Cepowski and Andrew Curtis also have a shot at helping the Falcons.

“This year’s group I think is a little stronger than last year’s group,” Fulton said. “They have a good shot.”

The girls team will be aided by the return of 2015 state participant junior Elizabeth Donnelly. They also welcome Liberty High School transfer Sophia Morgan, whose team won the Class 3A girls state championship last year. Junior Bethany Justus also returns to the team.

Morgan competed in cross country at Langley Middle School, but transferred to King’s when she reached high school, then to Liberty. She transferred for athletic reasons at both schools, commuting from Whidbey Island where her parents live to eventually residing with her aunt and uncle for a year and a half. She decided to return to South Whidbey for her final season.

“I just wanted to come home before I went to college,” Morgan said. “It’s really awesome. I love it back here.”

Donnelly is equally as excited for the season. She said the team’s annual camp at Fort Casey held during the preseason served as a strong bonding experience for the Falcons. A return to state is the obvious goal for Donnelly, but she’d also like to break 20 minutes in a 5k race and earn her second consecutive first-team all-conference honor. She also said she’s not going to let course conditions, such as rain or mud, get in the way of her performance.

“Hopefully if I make it to state again, I’ll know what I’m getting into because it is definitely a lot tougher than it looks,” Donnelly said.

Fulton said the girls and boys teams’ chances of qualifying for state could be greatly helped or hindered by the number of allocations the district is allowed. Team berths are based upon the number of teams in a district as compared to the average across the state, which is currently being determined. Last year, four teams advanced, while individual berths were determined by the number of team berths multiplied by five.

Simms said the goal for the boys team is to first qualify for the state championships and then compete for a chance to place.

“We’re all hoping to do well individually, too,” Simms said.

2016 Falcon cross country schedule

Wednesday, Sept. 7

Conference preview at Granite Falls

Saturday, Sept. 17

Carl Westling Invitational*

Saturday, Oct. 1

NIKE — 10th Annual Twilight XC Invitational

Thursday, Oct. 6

South Whidbey Invite*

Thursday, Oct. 13

King’s Invite

Thursday, Oct. 20

Cascade Championships at Blue Heron Golf Course

Saturday Oct. 29

District 1 1A, 2A championships at South Whidbey*

Saturday, Nov. 5

WIAA 1A cross country state championships at Sun Willows Golf Course

* Home meet