NCW — The weather might be a tad chillier than runners are used to, but the smiles are there nonetheless as cross country teams gear up for their first meet in nearly 18 months on Saturday.
Practice got underway this past Monday — though most teams have been able to get some work in over the past few weeks during open coaching. So there hasn’t been a ton of time for kids to get their fitness up to race level.
But Wenatchee head coach Susan Valdez said it’s been a pleasure to see and interact with the kids again — lending at least some sense of normalcy.
“It’s like we’ve never missed a beat in a way,” she said. “The kids are still the same but some of the boys have grown, all of a sudden they’re a foot taller than the last time I saw them. There are still restrictions, but we’re out here running, and we’re a team. It’s not completely normal, but we’ll take it.”
Though only a few days in, Valdez said the Panthers are looking good heading into their first competition. Some kids have been able to run throughout the entire pandemic while others cross country skied the past few months to build up their cardio.
And at the very least, the first race for Wenatchee is only 2 miles — a full mile shorter than the normal 5K circuit — at the Royal Golf Course.
“Some of these kids are going to rock it and it’ll be a piece of cake (and) the others who haven’t been running as much will use it as a time trial,” Valdez said. “But I can tell they are all excited. You can tell they’ve been missing some sort of competition, a lot of them thrive on it so they can’t wait.”
Three-time state competitor McKenna White is one of the seniors to follow during this shortened season. She’s improved every season and ran a PR (19:35.3) at state in November 2019 — her last race.
Valdez said she’s seen her running nearly every day along the Apple Capital Loop Trail. So she’s ready to roll. Juniors Liam Newman and Lars Sorom are another pair of runners to keep an eye on, though Valdez said Sorom will miss part of the season because “he’s heading out east to do cross country skiing school.”
“I don’t know a whole lot about it but we might have him for a few meets and he went to state last year,” she said. “We also have a very talented group of incoming freshmen. I’m excited. When I sent off the schedule to my assistants (Steve Roche, Bob Bullis and her daughter Aleah) I was pumped, knowing it’s going to be real. I started salivating thinking about getting to go watch a race again.”
Across the river, Eastmont head coach Gary Millard offered a similar assessment three days into the cross country season: the freshmen are nervous, but the older kids are all chomping at the bit.
“For the veterans that have that race experience, they are more excited of course (but) we also didn’t have a track season last spring or cross country season in the fall, so it’s been a long time,” he said. “The nerves are definitely high.”
Eastmont is heading to Wahluke on Saturday and will run a 2.25 miles course at the high school.
“That distance is comforting for some kids knowing that the first race is a little shorter so you don’t have to worry about the 5k, where you lay down a time that is open to criticism,” Millard said. “Even in a normal season we typically go over to Spokane and run the same distance; I just feel it’s nice to get a shorter distance as the first one under the belt.”
Given that much of the team has shown up to open coaching over the past month, Millard feels confident in his team come Saturday. Their fitness is up and the numbers are pretty good with 45 kids (as of Tuesday) signed up to compete.
“On the boy’s side, Ethan Child and Marco Gonzalez look really good so far,” Millard said. “And with Ethan, I call him our ‘secret weapon’ since he had a so-so freshman campaign and then suffered an injury four weeks into the 2019 season. But he’s put on a lot of miles over the summer and offseason. Marco is our veteran captain and then Adrian Cabrera looks good as well.”
On the girl’s side, Millard said sophomore Hannah Mikkelsen is miles ahead of where he was expecting. And juniors Whitley Hill and Dayna Dickson are already in midseason form.
“All of these kids I’ve mentioned did their homework,” Millard said. “That’s what you need to do if you’re a distance runner. I tell the kids if you ask a distance runner what they do, cross country or track, they’ll say ‘I’m a runner’ because it’s like a year-round job.”
The varsity boys start their meet at 1:30. The varsity girls will then follow at 2 p.m.