ILWACO — Ilwaco’s cross-country team didn’t get to cross any country in its first three days of practice, as the smoky air forced them indoors. “It was awful,” coach Sarah Taylor said. “We did some work in the weight room, did some running in the gym, and watched a fitness video.” Fortunately, they got outside starting Thursday, Aug. 23, with timed runs on a variety of terrains, then ran at Black Lake and the Discovery Trail Friday.
The girls team is coming off a third-place finish at State. This year’s girls team had only six runners at week’s end, though, having lost some of last year’s roster to soccer. The group is remarkably balanced, with four runners who finished between 33rd and 40th at State. The boys team has a deep roster, with 16 runners turning out. It brings back five of its seven varsity runners from last year’s 10th-in-State team, including junior stars Daniel Whiting and Tristan Trudell.
Whiting was 27th at State last year at 17:30 in 5,000 meters at Sun Willows Golf Course. That was after setting a personal record by going under 17 minutes at the District championships. Whiting may still be getting faster; last track season, he took over 10 seconds off his 1,600-meter times, getting down to 4:50.44, and about a half minute off his 3,200 times, twice breaking 10:30.
Trudell regularly got under 4:50 in the 1,600-meters last spring, peaking at 4:43.22. During cross-country season, he usually runs a tad behind Whiting, though he edged him at Rainier last year. Trudell was in the top six four times last year, and took 39th at State with a 17:55 time.
After those two there’s a drop-off, but nevertheless there’s a large group of solid runners. Ghannon Whelden and John Glenn both came in under 19 minutes at State. Colton McNabb sneaked under 20 minutes (19:59.1) at State and finished 55th at District. His personal-best time was 18:58.51 at the Nike Twilight Invitational in Marysville, where he finished within 44 seconds of Trudell and had times comparable to several top-50 runners from other districts.
Ilwaco will have to replace graduates Ivan Ramirez (its third fastest runner last season) and Adam Rutherford from last year’s group of seven post-season competitors. Nate Hopkins was Ilwaco’s fastest junior varsity runner last year and excelled in last week’s tryout, making him a good candidate for varsity this year. His personal-best is 20:34.9 at the South Sound Invite at St. Martin’s. At the home race at Black Lake, he took 24th. Anderson Stoddard last raced in 2016 but is back for his senior year. His personal best of 20:06.7 came in October 2016 at the Nike Twilight race, where he was at a similar pace to Glenn, Whelden and a freshman Trudell. Philip Huang, an exchange student from Taiwan, is giving cross-country a try. His past sports experience includes basketball, soccer and table tennis (ping pong).
Carli Kemmer, Alex Carper, Estella Sheldon and Kaytlenn Whelden were all between 33rd and 40th at State last year, and they regularly finished in the top ten at smaller races. All four return. Carper and Sheldon tended to get similar times at the beginning of last year. As Kemmer got faster throughout her freshman year, she, Carper and Sheldon found themselves running as a pack, pushing as a group to pass people or hold them off. Whelden was often in the mix with them as well. “It helps to run together,” Sheldon said. “We can just finish boom-boom-boom, all in a row. Alex would sometimes tell us to keep up. Last year, at District, I slowed down and didn’t think I could keep up, and she told me to keep going. I was able to stay with her.”
The now graduated Eliza Bannister, who was 16th at State, was a bit out in front of her top teammates. “We’ll definitely miss Eliza,” Sheldon said, “But I think we can all come together and fill that gap.” Losing their top runner doesn’t necessarily make a big difference by itself, especially if there are modest improvements from the rest of the team. But the group lost so much depth to soccer that it has little margin for error, or for injury, in a sport where the top five scores count toward a team score.
Fortunately, Nisa Mendoza, who set a personal-best 24:33.8 at Rainier last year, is back. Freshman Emma Brundage took third at the middle school South Sound Invite last year in a field of 22 runners, completing the 1.5 mile course in 10:21.24. She was in the top four at the Pacific League championship and at Rainier, and took a very impressive 38th at the Three Course Challenge at Camp Rilea in Warrenton. The girls team will try to bring in more recruits once the school year starts.
Ilwaco’s season opens Sept. 5 in Elma.