NASELLE - "We have our top four runners back from last season and we have nine boys in the running for a chance to score team points," an optimistic cross country Coach Scott Smith says of his Naselle squad after early daily-double work outs.

"Every one of our guys is a strong runner and they have all gotten bigger and stronger over the summer," Smith says as he enters his third season as head coach. The Comets finished second in the 2B Pacific League last season, but Smith admits, "We slumped at district, finishing only seventh."

One of the things he is having his charges do this season to avoid the end-of-season let down is to spend much more time "building aerobic capacity and getting our legs under us." He says, "Last season I had the guys work on improving their speed early, but this year we will spend the first five or six weeks on improving blood flow to the legs and strengthening the heart's ability to pump more blood. Then we can work on speed and taper off the last week before district."

Last season as freshmen, Drew Macy and Calen Thompson took turns finishing first and second for the Comets and as sophomores they are hoping to compete for one of 10 berths to state from District IV. Thompson was 21st and the top individual for Naselle last year. Conor Smith and Stephan Griss are juniors who were typically third and fourth on last season's squad, and also are threats to place well at meets.

Coach Smith says, "Alex Bennett (junior) is new to cross country, but looks to be close to the top four returnees already and Gary Johansen (sophomore) showed tons of improvement last year in track." Freshman Nathan Reitz, according to Smith, was one of the top distance runners in middle school track and he joins fellow freshman Alex Bighill and sophomore Justin Phillips in also competing for a scoring slot on the team.

Conor Smith relates, "We are making pretty good progress. It is nice to see so many people consistently working hard at practice and that we will have enough guys to have a team. We are definitely logging more miles than last year, but we are having more fun."

The Comets are practicing twice a day and have run on the beach, in the hills around Naselle, and taken jaunts in Oregon already. Their first meet is at Montesano Sept. 6 and Smith says, "That race should give us a good look at where we are at because there will be lots of our competitors there. I am sure we will improve our times, but only two of the top 15 runners at district last year graduated, so we'll see how we stack up with our competition right away."

The Comets will host a cross country meet Sept. 20 for the first time in at least six years. Smith believes Northwest Christian boys and girls teams will be the ones to beat and that White Pass boys and Ocosta girls could be the favorite for the second spots at district. The girls receive three team berths and 15 individual slots to state.

With only two team berths and 10 individual invitations to state in the boys division, the Comets will have their work cut out for them, but there's no substitute for a solid work ethic and positive attitude, and the Naselle nine have that. "We have an outside shot," Smith says when talking about state. Whether Naselle can run down White Pass and the other teams will depend upon how they get their legs under them early and how they stay strong at district.

                There are currently no girls turning out for cross country for the Comets. Anyone interested in joining the boys or girls teams is encouraged to call Scott Smith at 484-7208 or 484-7121.


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