WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee boys cross country team didn’t start the season the way it thought it would, but there have been enough positives to believe the Panthers will contend for one of two Big Nine state berths.
Returning state runner Tristan Cunderla suffered an ankle injury during the team’s first meet of the season and has been competing sparingly since.
Wenatchee is clearly a worse team without Cunderla, the team’s No. 2 runner a season ago, and struggled to post a low score without the veteran runner in its lineup.
“It hurts the team really bad,” said Cole Christman, who also ran at state last fall as a sophomore. “Pretty much we went from fourth in state to getting 11th in the first meet.”
The good news is that Cunderla has been competing and will make a trip to Portland on Saturday to compete at Nike Pre-Nationals in Portland. He said the injury is at about “75 to 80 percent,” and has been doing everything in his power to make for a quick recovery.
“Right now we’re kind of running a man down,” he said. “I think everyone’s coming together now and we’ll start having good races and team outcomes (later this year).”
Cunderla’s early season misfortune has cost the Panthers early on, but other runners have stepped in capably.
Sam Martin is still relatively new to cross country, but has made considerable strides since joining the team last fall. The senior shaved about one minute and a half from his average time and has been finishing second among Wenatchee runners early in the season.
“It’s pretty encouraging,” Martin said. “I feel like every race I get more confidence. A lot of the time I’d just get way too worried about it, but now I’m starting to get less stressed out and get faster.”
Aside from a much-improved Martin and state runners Cunderla and Christman, the Panthers also have Austen Lane, their third returning state competitor.
Wenatchee could have four state-caliber runners on its team — though it will have to wait a while — and could be solid from 1-5, depending on how things pan out in the No. 5 slot. Reid Lovercamp has been running in that spot this fall. Although he’s showing improvement, freshman Moses Lurbur is right on pace with Lovercamp and has also shown steady progress.
With a much-improved Martin and Lurbur and Lovercamp competing amongst each other, everything comes back to Cunderla’s recovery. If everything goes according to plan, the Panthers will be peak when it matters most.
“I’m really optimistic about it because I feel like there’s a lot of season to go and a lot of stuff can happen,” Christman said. “I feel like we’re going to be healthy by the time state rolls around.”
The Wenatchee girls have had a series of competitive races with Eastmont this season and both teams will likely be battling for the second league state berth behind Eisenhower.
The Panthers narrowly edged the Wildcats by two points in a Big Nine meet last week and Eastmont returned the favor by finishing ahead of Wenatchee at the Wenatchee Invitational at Walla Walla Park on Saturday.
“We are so close that it’s not even funny,” Brittany McCrum said. “Usually when you’re close to a team, you’re within 10 points. But with Eastmont, we’re within one or two points, so it’s just like overly close.”
The Panthers have had a balanced approach this fall. Although Sophie Marshall has been their clear No. 1 runner, McCrum, Lindsey Wapato, Ashley Murie and Raquel Thody have been nearly indistinguishable from one another in regards to performance.
“There’s no one that really overshadows anyone,” Murie said. “Our seventh runner in varsity can always switch because there’s so many runners with potential.”
If Wenatchee hopes to clinch the second state berth from the Big Nine, it will need good performances from its entire core to surpass Eastmont.