FALL SPORTS PREVIEW | Division change, ranking fuels Falcon distance runners

LANGLEY — Five kilometers separate the Falcon cross country teams from their goals to reach the 1A state meet.

LANGLEY — Five kilometers separate the Falcon cross country teams from their goals to reach the 1A state meet.

All they have to do is stay healthy and run fast. South Whidbey’s girls cross country team is ranked eighth among 1A teams in Washington by a preseason coaches poll, and for good reason. The Falcon girls return five seniors, including some of the Cascade Conference’s top runners in Lillianna Stelling, Nora Felt, Anna Hood and Bonnie Klamm.

“They’ve been running consistently for six years,” said head coach Doug Fulton.

Stelling and South Whidbey’s dozen or so other girl runners will look to return to the state meet this year after missing out by a couple of seconds last season. Stelling qualified for the 2A state meet in 2010, but missed a qualifying spot in 2011 by two seconds.

“I realized I’m going to have to make a lot of sacrifices this year,” Stelling said.

Stelling’s summer training was hindered by low ferritin levels, a protein that stores and releases iron. While she met with other Falcon runners at least five days per week the past few months, Stelling could run only 35 minutes. The upside is she said her energy is higher at the start of the season than it has been in previous years. That has her looking forward to the Falcons’ future and chance to qualify for the state meet as a team.

“I think it’s really exciting to think about,” she said. “Everybody is believing it.”

A trio of Falcons were grouped in the 21- and 22-minute mark at the District 1 meet last year. Felt was South Whidbey’s second finisher, followed by Klamm and sophomore Emma Lungren. For her last year, Felt knows where her finish line is: the state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

“My No. 1 goal is to just stay healthy,” Felt said.

“It’s a really exciting possibility.”

The boys are not ranked in the coaches poll. With only one senior and one junior, neither of whom qualified for a state meet, why would a coach vote for the Falcon boys as a team title contender?

Senior runner Jhamil Bader-Jarvis could care less with preseason rankings. He knows he was active this summer, running about 20 miles each week, plus bicycling and swimming while working on Orcas Island.

“We definitely have a strong group this year,” Bader-Jarvis said.

“I’m ready to have a great season this year.”

With young runners like Cole Zink, Anders Bergquist and Gavin Imes, the boys team will need to grow up quickly. Last year, Zink set his 5-kilometer personal record of 17:34.58 at the district meet; Bergquist’s best time is 19:26.23; and Imes ran his fastest 5K in 18:39.11. Bader-Jarvis, the lone senior, has a goal of running a low 17-minute mark.

“I want to achieve making sure everyone else makes their goals,” Bader-Jarvis said.

“I’m expecting us at having a way better chance at making it to state.”

South Whidbey’s cross country teams have meets scheduled across the state line again this year. The Falcons will head to the Oregon coast for the Three Course Challenge in Seaside, famous for a course that runs through a muddy pool of water.

“It’s not an easy run, but it’s a fun run,” Bader-Jarvis said. “It gives some difference to the normal courses.”

The Falcons have only two home meets this year. The first is the South Whidbey Invite which draws teams from across the state, including perennial 4A power Eisenhower from Yakima. A 5K for community members runs before the high school meet, called the Carl Westling 5K, now in its third year as a memorial for the longtime Falcon track and cross country coach.

South Whidbey’s second meet will be the Cascade Conference Championship on Saturday, Oct. 20. The Falcons will still feel a competitive itch when they line up against their familiar foes with the conference title at stake.

“I still want to beat them because they’ve been our rivals for so long,” Stelling said.

After that, the Falcons need to finish faster than a host of schools at the Westside Classic in Tacoma, which is the state-qualifying meet.