South Whidbey cross country runners Mallorie Mitchem and Elizabeth Donnelly may have traveled two different paths to qualify for state at the District 1 Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the high school, but the reward was much the same.
Mitchem, a senior, cruised to the front of the pack in the Class 1A girls competition and maintained her pace all the way to a seventh-place finish. She also set a personal best on South Whidbey’s home course with a time of 20:40:89.
Donnelly was roughly five places away from finishing inside the state-qualifying top-20 with around 500 meters left to go when she heard Falcon head coach Doug Fulton shout to her.
“You gotta pass five or you’re not going to get top 20!” Fulton said.
Donnelly turned on the afterburners when she reached the track and tapped the same energy which led to a second-place finish in the state 1A track and field championships in 2014. Donnelly passed the pack in front of her and then some, placing 17th with a time of 21:21:58 for her personal best on the course.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it for a really long time in the race,” Donnelly said. “Once I got on the track, I knew I could make it. There’s no way I’m missing it by one spot.”
Donnelly and Mitchem will be the lone representatives for South Whidbey at the Class 1A State Cross Country Championships in Pasco on Nov. 7.
Falcon girls Annika Hustad, Iona Rohan, Clara Martin, Anna Justus, and Bethany Justus also competed in the district meet, but placed outside of the top-40. The team placed seventh overall with 167 points. Northwest took the girls team title with 52 points.
The narrow margin which kept the South Whidbey’s boys team from qualifying for its third consecutive trip to state was a tough pill to swallow, Fulton said.
The Falcons’ 160 points fell just four points shy from the top-four, which is the cutoff for advancing to the state meet as a team. South Whidbey was led by junior Cory Ackerman, who finished just five positions away from a state berth after running the course in 18:15:18. Senior Evan Mellish, who was South Whidbey’s front runner throughout much of the season, finished 28th with a time of 18:17:27.
“I think (Mellish) got a side stitch during the race,” Fulton said. “That hit him and he ran with everything he could.”
Fulton said Mellish handled the disappointment well. Mellish will be the only boys runner to graduate in the spring.
Falcon junior Justin Gonzales placed 33rd after running the course in 18:26:25, and junior Will Simms finished close behind in 35th with a time of 18:31:34. Junior Collin Burns rounded out the top-40 with a 39th-place finish and a time of 18:39:11.
Fulton said a few of the runners were dinged up, including Gonzales, who sat out the conference meet on Oct. 24 with a hip injury.
“It’s just unfortunate they couldn’t be on their A-game,” Fulton said.
Fortunately for the Falcons, Mitchem and Donnelly had the best races of their seasons. For Mitchem, it will be her fourth consecutive trip to the state meet.
“Most people don’t get to state at all, let alone four years in a row,” Fulton said.
Mitchem’s experience was evident during Saturday’s race, where she knew she had to keep her pace and intensity high to avoid allowing a pack to sneak up from behind and pass her.
But Mitchem wasn’t just running for herself.
“You’re running for each other, and the only way some people can get to state is with a team,” Mitchem said. “You’re running for your teammates. In the trails, I’m telling myself, ‘Pick it up for the team,’ just running it through my head.”
Though Mitchem and Donnelly’s performances were not enough to advance the rest of the girls team to state, it was a strong indicator that they have a chance to compete well on Nov. 7.
Mitchem currently ranks 29th on South Whidbey’s all-time list for girls state championship times, after placing 13th overall at the state meet in 2014 with a time of 19:58.02.
“I really want to have fun and enjoy the course and run my hardest on it,” Mitchem said.
Though Donnelly has experience at the state level in track and field, it will be Donnelly’s first state experience in cross country.
“I don’t know if it will be like track at all,” Donnelly said. “Once you’re there, you know you have to do this now; it’s going to be a good race. Everyone is there to do the same thing as you are and just run really fast.”
The Falcons left for the state meet Thursday.
“I know they’re going to run well,” Fulton said. “I’m just looking forward to them having fun and them experiencing the fun. It’s going to be exciting to see. Mallorie has a shot to get back on the podium, I know that’s her goal.”