Lace ’em up and start running

Cross country looks for balance.

Where cross country is concerned, the word “tryouts” is out of place.

More appropriate would be “turnouts” – everyone with the will to run makes the team, and the real competition is not between individuals, but within them.

“It’s you against yourself,” cross country assistant coach Cindy Beck said, “even though you’re running as a team.”

Nearly 50 strong, the Spartan harriers trained this week on the Memorial Stadium track and nearby play fields, building up endurance for the coming season.Road runs will follow in the coming days.

One training difference this year: the squad won’t be running in a remote North Kitsap area head coach Richard Christopher refers to as “the boonies.”

There have, it seems, been a few bear sightings recently.

“It’s still a great place to train, but there’s too much liability,” Christopher said, adding after some reflection, “but it’s still probably less dangerous than running on the roads.”

Going into last season, the team knew it had two individual standouts in Nolan Amy and Rachel Belt. Both routinely left opposing runners behind, and the duo earned first- and second-place finishes at the Metro League championships.

But a meet is won or lost on aggregate results, and with last year’s stars lost to graduation, the Spartans could see a more balanced output this year, even as returning competitors seek to distance themselves from the pack.

“Kids will always rise to your level of expectation, and based on what I’ve seen, they (also) expect a lot of themselves,” Christopher said of this year’s squad. “And we expect to have a lot of fun, so I don’t see how we can go wrong.”

Joining Christopher with the clipboard this year is BHS Spanish teacher Cindy Beck, an experienced Masters class runner who has been affiliated with the program in an unofficial capacity for some time. Last year’s girls coach Mary Sue Silver is taking the year off from the program.

Beck cites junior Erika Bergman – “incredibly talented,” in the coach’s assessment – as a likely standout among the girls runners, and senior Colin O’Keefe and junior Max Suffis as early favorites in the boys field.

“He should be league, district and state material if he’s really focused,” Beck said of Suffis. “He’s very capable.”

Bergman was the second-fastest Spartan finisher at Metro last year, 13th overall. Suffis and O’Keefe notched 19th and 38th place finishes in that meet.

The ranks are filled out by several up-and-coming lower-classmen moving over from youth soccer programs.

The team hosts just one meet this year, a Sept. 23 tilt against guest schools Blanchet, O’Dea, Holy Names and Seattle Prep. The contest starts at 4 p.m.

Most meets are at Seattle’s Lower Woodland Park, always a good measure of runners’ physical and mental fortitude. The terrain is uneven – the signature feature is an imposing mound known as Goat Hill – and the layout is such that a runner’s view of the competition comes and goes.

The homestretch, perhaps three-quarters of a mile long, could be the ultimate gut-check for harriers trying to run frontrunners to ground, while staying ahead of those on their heels.

“Once you’ve experienced Lower Woodland, you’re pretty in tune with what’s going on,” Christopher said.

* * * * *

Cross country

Sept. 16: Ingraham/Cleveland/Sealth at Lower Woodland (3:40)

Sept. 19: Salt Creek Invitational

Sept. 23: Blanchet/O’Dea/Holy Names/Seattle Prep at Battle Point (4 p.m.)

Sept. 25: Bellevue Invite at Lake Sammamish (9 a.m.)

Sept. 29: Eastside/O’Dea/Holy Names/Sealth/Rainier Beach at Lower Woodland (3:40 p.m.)

Oct. 2: Sunfair Invitational at Yakima (9 a.m.)

Oct. 7: West Seattle/Chief Sealth at Lincoln Park (3:40 p.m.)

Oct. 9: Hoquiam Invite

Oct. 14: Blanchet/Sealth/Beach/Lakeside at Lower Woodland (3:40)

Oct. 21: Metro Championships at Lower Woodland (3 p.m.)

Oct. 28: Districts at Lower Woodland (2 p.m.)

Nov. 16: State at Pasco

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