High School Sports

Bellingham girls’ cross country thriving on, off the course

Three separate written commitments are painted on the side of a second story wall just inside Bellingham High School’s main entrance.

Above the three pledges written in black are the words ‘We believe in. ...’

Below, inscribed in Red Raider red are the commitments, which read: ‘Taking care of this great place,’ ‘treating all members of the BHS community with dignity and respect’ and ‘producing quality work.’

In myriad ways, the Bellingham girls’ cross country team embodies those values.

Before Red Raiders coach Bill McClement even mentioned running talent, he detailed the team’s pervasive leadership, positive and inclusive atmosphere, overall willingness to learn and improve and the recently announced fall academic state title Bellingham earned.

Athletic success has come from all different grade levels. Cross country juggernaut Bellingham has standout freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, but it’s no secret high levels of achievement is a byproduct of strong leadership, and McClement couldn’t ask for a better group this fall.

“A group of seniors like that, they have the capability to really establish the tone for the whole program,” McClement said in a phone interview. “And that is what Leah (Veldhuisen), Abby (Walker) and Julia (Latimer) have done this year.”

While the Red Raiders are proud of the team atmosphere they’ve fostered, the Bellingham girls can run a little, too.

The Red Raiders finished second last week with 63 points at the Class 2A District 1 Championships. All seven of their runners finished 26th place or better with Veldhuisen placing fifth in a time of 19 minutes, 59.43 seconds and freshman Quincy Gale placing eighth with a 20:17.33.

Bellingham has been ranked No. 2 in the Class 2A weekly coaches poll much of the season, but high rankings and team trophies are nothing new to the Red Raiders. One would need to revisit 2008 to unearth the last time Bellingham didn’t finish within the top four at state.

The Red Raiders should again be in line to return home with a team trophy when Bellingham competes in the Class 2A State Championships at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

But what makes this team special, McClement said, is the ability of this year’s leaders to step forward and uphold Bellingham’s strong tradition.

“One of the really important things is that they have worked together to keep the program very inclusive,” McClement said. “They want to include all the kids in everything that we do from beginning of stretching to the drills and through the dynamic stretching and technique and speed drills.”

Many of the values this year’s seniors uphold have been learned from past experiences, Walker said.

“I think our strongest thing is that we are really close as a team,” said the Bellingham senior. “We are really respectful and supportive of each other, and I think that definitely makes us a strong team. ... I think all of us have done cross country since freshman year, and you kind of know what it feels like to be the new ones, so we all want to make sure when we are seniors that we help the freshmen through it.”

Even with seniors such as Veldhuisen, Latimer and Walker guiding the Red Raiders, Bellingham still has had to perform. The team graduated talented crop from last year’s runner-up squad, and Veldhuisen got her affirmation that this year’s Red Raiders could be just as good, if not better, during early October’s Sunfair Invitational.

“Everyone was OK with their races, but none were really, really good, but we still won the small-school division,” Veldhuisen said. “Zoe (Thompson) won the JV race, and I think it was really fun to see everyone have decent races and still do really well.”

Undoubtedly, Veldhuisen will be looking for the Red Raiders to again run well at state. It’s a race Veldhuisen, Walker and Latimer have ran a combined six times, and they’ll be able share their wealth of knowledge with the rest of the team.

And for a perennial power such as Bellingham, Veldhuisen said the team’s goal is to improve on last year and ensure they get a podium spot.

McClement wants to see his girls thrive, but at the same time he knows the values the team holds dearest are what will give them success once cross country is over.

“What’s unique is that everyday as coach I go out there in the afternoon and see a team that wants to learn and go forward with a sense of humor and attention to detail,” the Bellingham coach said. “It’s like the best classroom you will ever find, and those are the kind of kids you are working with.”