Matt Simms photo — South Whidbey’s girls cross country team qualified for the class 1A state cross country championships on Nov. 4 in Pasco. From left to right: Cecilia Cobbs, Laila Gmerek, Natalie Rodriguez, Elizabeth Donnelly, Kaia Swegler Richmond, Serena McLain, Alexandra Kurtz and Flannery Friedman.

Falcon girls cross country finishes fourth, claims state berth

South Whidbey’s girls cross country team, as well as two Falcon boys, are headed to Pasco.

The Falcon girls finished fourth in the 1A District 1 cross country championships on Saturday, earning an outright berth to the 1A state cross country championships on Nov. 4. The top four teams and 28 placing individuals advanced to state in 1A.

It’s the 27th time in the school’s history that the girls program has qualified for state.

“The athletes ran their best races Saturday and I was very happy with the results,” head coach Doug Fulton said. “This is a really hard working and motivated group.”

Freshman Kaia Swegler Richmond led the team with an eighth-place finish on the 5,000-meter course in 20 minutes and 15 seconds. Her teammates, junior Alexandra Kurtz and senior Elizabeth Donnelly, finished 22nd and 27th, respectively. Other girls advancing to state include freshman Serena McLain, sophomore Flannery Friedman, freshman Natalie Rodriguez, freshman Laila Gmerek and sophomore Cecilia Cobbs.

Swegler Richmond and Kurtz said they were on a cool-down run with Donnelly following their races when they got the word via a text. Naturally, they sprinted back to the track to celebrate with their team.

The Falcons were ranked fourth among teams in District 1 for most of the season until they dropped to fifth prior to the meet. They knew it would require hard running if they were going to qualify.

“We knew that we weren’t ranked super high and we’d have to work really hard for it,” Swegler Richmond said. “I think we’re all happy that we all did well enough to go to state.”

Kurtz, a first-year runner, originally planned to use cross country as preparation for the track and field season in the spring. She’s a sprinter in track, so she was surprised to find she has talent as a distance runner.

“I didn’t realize I’d be that competitive,” Kurtz said. “But, I love it.”

Swegler Richmond, who qualified for the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in 2016, said she hit her mark of finishing in the top 10.

“I was really happy with my place and I’m really happy for the team, too,” Swegler Richmond said.

Advancing for the boys were junior Callahan Yale and sophomore Michael Cepowski. Yale finished 18th overall in 17 minutes an 52 seconds, while Cepowski was close behind in 20th (17:53). Freshman Thomas Simms finished 31st overall (18.26) and narrowly missed a state berth. The Falcon boys finished sixth place as a team.

Cepowski’s time on Saturday was nearly a minute better than his first race on the course back in September.

“My goal was to run with nothing left,” Cepowski said. “I felt like I had spent pretty much everything that I had. It was one of my better races.”

Yale earned his second consecutive ticket to state following his qualification as a sophomore in 2016. He said he’ll be glad to have a teammate with him on the starting line.

“It feels good,” Yale said. “I’m excited for Michael to see what it’s like, too. I feel like I kind of know what to expect.”

Matt Simms photo — South Whidbey boys cross country runners Callahan Yale (center) and Michael Cepowski (right) qualified for state by placing 18th and 20th, respectively.

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