It’s hard to blame Squalicum senior cross country runner Chais Sugden for feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of his high school running career.
He was a young, promising runner competing against older talents Patrick Gibson, Chris Fredlund and Nick Gallaher.
“We knew he was talented as a freshman,” Storm cross country coach Katrina Henry said in a phone interview. “You kind of just recognize it with how carries himself, his mental toughness and how he approaches workouts.”
While Henry recognized Sugden’s talents early on, he hadn’t yet built confidence in his own abilities.
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“Since I was a freshman, I came in and thought, ‘Wow, high school (running),’ you know,” Sugden said in a phone interview. “Patrick and everyone above me and seeing them and all the fast people put me on a low (level). I didn’t see myself on a high scale.”
Interestingly enough, it took an insignificant race for Sugden to gain a substantial amount of confidence.
Freshman year Sugden won the Northwest Conference Championships junior varsity race, placing first out of 198 other runners. While he earned nothing more than high praise and a JV Champion T-shirt, the win’s impact on Sugden’s maturation as a runner was immeasurable.
“That made me feel like I had a chance at cross country in high school,” Sugden said. “At that point I really started to put more work in as a freshman and starting running more with Patrick and Chris during the offseason.”
Sugden’s work has paid off, as he and the Storm qualified for the Class 2A State Meet last fall. Squalicum took second place, and Sugden was a major contributor, finishing third on the team and 42nd overall with a time of 16 minutes, 43.14 seconds.
Sugden’s junior year crowning achievement, though, came six months later on the track when he won a Class 2A individual state title in the 800 meter with a personal-record time of 1:54.53.
He’s hoping the speed gained during track and field will carry over to his final season running cross country.
“I’ve noticed that my speed is pretty good,” Sugden said. “Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to bring up my mileage. I think this year will be good because of all that track speed.”
Also, Sugden has been made team co-captain with fellow senior Dylan Tomberlin. Squalicum graduated a wealth of quality seniors, and Sugden and Tomberlin are the only remaining runners from last year’s state lineup.
Sugden said while he feels he’s not quite as knowledgeable as past leaders Gibson and Fredlund, he’s striving to do his part in guiding the new-look team to another strong season. From Fredlund, he said he’s learned how to stay focused and from Gibson, he said he’s learned how to stay humble.
“I remember looking up to Chris and Patrick,” Sugden said. “I don’t feel like I fill their shoes very well. My running knowledge is more limited. I can’t really help out as much as I wish, but I’m going to do my best.”
But to Henry, simply the way Sugden carries himself at practice and the way he attacks workouts has its affect on the Storm’s younger runners.
“He really works hard at practice,” Henry said. “He goes for it and puts it all out there and sees what happens.”
This season Sugden is looking to break into the top 10 at state and run a sub-15:40.
“This is just what I want, but I don’t know if I have the ability to do it,” he said. “I hope, if I put in enough work, it will show.”
So far it has.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.