High School Sports

What’s better than a fifth consecutive state title? Doing it with guys that have your back

Sehome’s Bryce Johnson crosses the finish line during a 2014 cross country race against Bellingham, Squalicum and Lummi Nation at Lake Padden. Johnson is part of a strong senior core hoping to lift the Mariners to a fifth straight state title on Saturday.
Sehome’s Bryce Johnson crosses the finish line during a 2014 cross country race against Bellingham, Squalicum and Lummi Nation at Lake Padden. Johnson is part of a strong senior core hoping to lift the Mariners to a fifth straight state title on Saturday. eabell@bhamherald.com

Sehome’s Kevin Ryan has seen a lot of runners during his 20 years as a cross country coach.

He’s watched freshmen he was sure would be a top group go their separate ways by their senior year, as some flame out and lose interest or don’t improve the way they’d like.

But the core of the 2016 team – five seniors who’ve run together all four years – is different.

“To have this many runners in one senior class is pretty impressive,” Ryan said. “For these five to be so consistent is really great.”

Sehome heads to the Class 2A State Championships in Pasco on Saturday seeking its fifth consecutive state title and 12th consecutive top-two finish with a group more close-knit than most.

In a sport that can be very individualistic, Ryan said it’s wonderful to have a group of runners be about more than themselves.

“They’ve done all the things as senior leaders to bring this team along,” he said, “to a point where they’re leaving the team … in a really good place.”

Coming together

Kyler Cruz, Logan Franey, Bryce Johnson and Jackson Slesk came together from several area middle schools and from different sports backgrounds.

Cruz played soccer until high school. So did Franey. Slesk played basketball and football until his father made him start running every day in the sixth grade.

Johnson has been running the longest, since third grade, when he started running with his parents in community races.

After four years of workouts, races, team dinners and summer camping trips to Orcas Island, the four are close both on and off the trails.

Cruz said he believes the camaraderie the group shares helps each runner focus better.

“When you’re waiting to run, or waiting to warm up,” he said, “just being with people that you know and are comfortable with, as opposed to people that you might not know as well … it helps bring the nerves down and take the stress down a notch.”

Franey said cross country creates a unique community of athletes, since, unlike other sports, the entire team is doing the same thing during practices, each going through the same struggle of pushing themselves to run faster.

“In running,” he said, “you can go as hard as you can. Even though you might be faster than someone, you could be putting in the same effort, and that kind of creates a shared cause.”

Working together

Is the group competitive against each other? Slesk said they try not to be.

“We’ve gotta work together as a team,” he said. “But I do think there is some competition to stay with each other – to stay together as a pack and keep improving. So I think it’s a good kind of competition that we have.”

Ryan said continuing to improve every year is something they’ve done well.

“You’ve gotta do all the right things each year,” he said. That could be, for example, increasing weekly distance totals from 35 miles as a freshman to 60 miles as a senior.

“Year after year they put in the winter work, in the weight room,” Sehome assistant coach Mark Kerr said. “It’s a great core group.”

The seniors, who help organize practices, know what they’re doing and push the entire team to get better, he added.

Standing together

The fifth member of the senior group, Matt Karcher, is not competing at state this year.

Karcher has dealt with breathing issues the past two years, including asthma and vocal cord dysfunction. While he finds it frustrating to struggle getting the oxygen he needs, Karcher said having teammates around is a huge motivation during tough times.

“Having the team there to train with, no matter your ability, being able to come out and get in the runs and minutes with the guys has been really important,” said Karcher, who plans to be in Pasco on Saturday to cheer on his teammates.

Besides helping with running, Johnson said the cohesion of groups that go to state is closer than he’d imagined when he joined during his freshman year.

“The whole trip (to Pasco), we become closer than we were before,” he said. “It’s nice during school, too, because you always have someone to talk to. Can you help on a test? You (always) have someone there, to have your back.”

Most of the Mariners five said they plan to keep running in college, whether competitively or recreationally.

For now, though, they’ll focus on getting one last state title, one they’ll no doubt earn with a feeling of togetherness.

“I think that’s why our team is so big,” Cruz said. “It’s not just a varsity team and everyone else; it’s one big team – some people are just running faster.”

Whatcom County state cross country participants

Class 1A girls

Runner

School

Kady Aamot

Meridian

Dena Andrushenko

Meridian

Brooke Berendsen

Lynden Christian

Allyssa Brooks*

Meridian

Brooke DeBeeld

Nooksack Valley

Stefania Dellai

Meridian

Emma Forbes*

Meridian

Jazmine Gutierrez

Nooksack Valley

Juliette Haggith

Mount Baker

Alyce Harlan

Nooksack Valley

Madison Hem*

Nooksack Valley

Makenna Holz

Meridian

Ashley Lingbloom

Lynden Christian

Kendyl Otter

Meridian

Olivia Pears

Nooksack Valley

Kaitlyn Stapp

Mount Baker

Rubi Stuit

Meridian

Taylor Ten Pas

Lynden Christian

Jenna Tiemersma

Nooksack Valley

Ashlee VanDenTop

Meridian

Michaela Yonkman

Nooksack Valley

Class 1A boys

Runner

School

Kenny Barnes

Meridian

Brooks DeWaard

Lynden Christian

Jenson Ellars

Meridian

Bailey Hodge

Meridian

Derek Holz

Meridian

Caleb Karber

Nooksack Valley

Zac Kinney*

Meridian

McKay Ross

Meridian

Nathan Schneider

Meridian

Eric Steiger

Lynden Christian

Abbas Theophilus

Meridian

Joe Wilson*

Meridian

Class 2A girls

Runner

School

Aspen Allsop

Sehome

Edie Braimes

Bellingham

Kathi Burtscher

Bellingham

Claire Campbell

Bellingham

Emma Clark

Sehome

Aine Dillon

Sehome

Jada French

Bellingham

Emma Hageman*

Sehome

Lizzie Hanks

Bellingham

Abby Johnson

Sehome

Rosie Kirker

Sehome

Haleh Mawson*

Bellingham

Grace Much

Bellingham

Angie Petrichenko

Sehome

Madeline Prentiss

Bellingham

Annika Reiss

Bellingham

Kate Rose

Sehome

Claire Rowan*

Sehome

Class 2A boys

Runner

School

Jacob Alexander*

Sehome

Cade Brown

Bellingham

Kyler Cruz

Sehome

Logan Franey

Sehome

Jacob Frazier*

Sehome

Tate Hutchins

Lynden

Bryce Johnson

Sehome

Drake Kirby

Sehome

Drew McFall

Bellingham

Tadeusz Pforte

Sehome

Jackson Slesk

Sehome

Reed Smith

Sehome

Class 3A girls

Runner

School

Grace Oswin

Squalicum

*Alternate runner on team qualifier

SOURCE: WIAA.com

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