Jessa Clark and Ellie Rowan-Arnett have integrated differently into Sehome's talent-packed cross country team. Their personalities differ, too. But they're a perfect example of how the egoless Mariners work so well and have dominated area running this season.
Clark, a junior and standout track and field athlete, didn't fully commit to distance running until her sophomore year, and she's a quiet veteran leader on a varsity roster filled with young runners. Rowan-Arnett, a freshman, brings heaps of energy and came into high school already a highly-touted cross country runner.
Both have excelled, and despite their differences and they've been integral pieces to the Mariners' Northwest Conference title, Northwest District title and will be key during Sehome's bid for a Class 2A State Championship.
"Both are just all about the team," Sehome coach Nic Castona said during a phone interview. "I don't think this would be nearly as fun, and they really buy into the team aspect."
Clark and Rowan-Arnett will join teammates Ruby Watson, Emily Pittis, Rebekah Oviatt, Aili Emory and Dana Ringler during the state meet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco. The Mariners will be chasing back-to-back championships and, most likely, each other.
All seven varsity runners finished in the top 19 during last week's district race, and Watson, Pittis and Rowan-Arnett finished second, third and fourth, respectively.
With so much competition, not only to crack the varsity roster, but to be regarded as the team's top runner, there must be a lot of jockeying to be the best, right?
That's not the case at Sehome.
"We all come from different running experiences in the past, and it's not super easy," Rowan-Arnett said, "but I think everyone loves running, and we are going to get together and make the most of the sport."
Rowan-Arnett came to Castona an already somewhat polished runner. He coached her when she ran at Fairhaven middle school, and the transition has come easy for the freshman.
Her presence has also breathed energy into the Mariners.
"I think it's really important," said Rowan-Arnett of her vibrant, positive attitude. "If we are negative, others will be down, so it's good to keep the vibe strong."
Clark views team competition as a blessing more than an obstacle.
"It's kind of an advantage having so many people around my speed and having so many teammates to work off of," Clark said. "It's really amazing. It helps a lot in workouts. Having such a fast team gives you confidence. You want to show what we can do with all these amazing runners. I'm really happy to have such an awesome team that has my back."
The Mariners' season doesn't last only three months, either. Most of the girls run together in the offseason, Castona said.
Rowan-Arnett ran with the team during the summer before she came to Sehome and also attended running camps. Clark joined cross country, in large part, because she's friends with Pittis.
"It's just been the tradition here for a long time," said Castona of Sehome working together and churning out team titles. "This is more than a three-month thing for them. They are running in the dark of winter and are always together. When you buy into that camaraderie, it makes your job easier."
Clark and Rowan-Arnett most likely won't be vying for an individual title during the state meet. Both Pittis' and Watson's 5,000 meter PR is nearly 20 seconds faster, but the two have impressed and improved all season.
Rowan-Arnett's fastest time this year in the 5,000 meter is 18 minutes, 40.7 seconds. She posted the time, which ranks third fastest on the team, during the Hole in the Wall Invite. Clark's 19:13.6 is Sehome's fifth fastest.
Clark didn't run at state as a freshman, but she finished 23rd overall last year. She said the experience will greatly benefit her this season.
"I kind of know now what we do and our schedule and the traditions that go into state, which is nice," Clark said. "I realize how important it is, and a lot is riding on the state meet. It's a lot more apparent now that I've been there."
Clark will be relied on helping first-timers, like Rowan-Arnett, assimilate into the nuances of running a state meet. But the opportunity is one Rowan-Arnett has been looking forward to for long time.
"I have had the time of my life this season," she said. "Just the entire thing will be so exciting to get the experience. I'll be super nervous, but I can wait to share this with the girls and can't wait to have the memories."
Those memories will be a lot sweeter with a state championship heading back to Sehome High.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.