Doug Fulton photo — South Whidbey’s cross country team practiced at Fort Ebey in Coupeville during the preseason, which is an annual tradition.

Chances of making it to state improve with large turnout | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

Developing a cadre of youth runners to help qualify for state is a focus for South Whidbey cross country this season.

Head coach Doug Fulton, in his 21st year as head coach of the Falcon program, said 75 percent of the team are freshmen and sophomores. Qualifying for the state meet won’t be easy; only the top four teams and 28 individuals will advance to state when the Falcons host the district championships on Oct. 28 at South Whidbey High School. There are also four fewer berths for the girls than last year.

“It’s a tough order, but it will be exciting to see how these young kids develop,” Fulton said. “The focus is going to be on developing the young kids, having fun and seeing where we go.”

The Falcons’ schedule includes the 39th annual Carl Westling Invitational on Sept. 16 at South Whidbey High School, which will include 33 teams as well as two middle school races for seventh and eighth graders. South Whidbey is also traveling out of state to compete in the Mountain West Classic from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Missoula, Mont. The Falcons are returning to a former tradition that used to take them to places like Hawaii and Palo Alto, Calif. and the runners are excited for the opportunity.

“The farthest we’ve gone while we’ve been here has been Yakima,” senior Elizabeth Donnelly said.

The Falcons return three state competitors in Donnelly, junior Callahan Yale and sophomore Flannery Friedman. Donnelly qualified for the 2015 state championships, but missed out on this past year’s state race by just one place.

“We’re a very competitive district,” Fulton said. “The ones that were in the mix last year should be in the mix again this year.”

Yale was the lone boys runner to qualify for state in 2016, which was held in Pasco. The excitement of being there led Yale to running faster than he usually had in the past, hindering his overall performance. He said he’ll be far more aware of his pacing throughout this season.

“I ran too fast,” Yale said. “I was just excited to be there. And I was the only that went, so the older people I’d been practicing with weren’t able to practice with me beforehand.”

Yale said his goal for the season is to have the boys teams qualify for state, which is doable if enough Falcons place highly enough at the district championships on Oct. 28 at South Whidbey High School.

“We have a lot of people that I think are state worthy,” Yale said.

Donnelly has the same goal for the girls.

“We have so many more girls this year, and a bunch of them are really young and seem to be really enthusiastic about running,” Donnelly said. “I think it’d be really cool if we get everybody together and go as a team.”

“Obviously, I’d really like to qualify as an individual,” Donnelly said.

While Yale and Donnelly are competitive, senior Joe Davies has a different viewpoint.

“I’m just in it to have a good time and to continue on the legacy of cross country,” Davies said.

He had some wise words to pass on to the younger runners about the sport in general and chasing after personal records.

“Basically, it’s going to kick your butt and you’re going to hate it 99 percent of the time, but don’t give up,” Davies said. “The feeling at the end of race when you get a crazy PR (personal record) is the best.”

Donnelly is also trying to impart her wisdom from the past three years onto the younger girls.

“I want them to have fun and really like it, so they’ll stay,” Donnelly said. “Workouts are hard and they kinda suck, but then in the end you love it because you love your team.”

Some of the younger runners include freshman Kaia Swegler Richmond, who qualified for the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in December 2016, and Luc Gandarias, a blind runner who will use the help of former cross country runner Will Simms to guide him through courses.

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