Sports

Spartan harriers expect tough competitionThe move to Metro means bigger meets and faster foes.

"More than 40 runners make up this year's Spartan cross-country team, and they're already outpacing the coach. This is a great group of kids, coach Richard Christopher says. We're going to have some serious fun.The fun starts Friday, as the team travels to Lower Woodland Park to take on O'Dea, Holy Names, Ingraham, Ballard and Seattle Prep in their first meet as a member of the Metro League.The serious part: The squad boasts one of the best levels of physical fitness Christopher has seen as a coach. For the first time in 15 years, I didn't catch anyone in a road run, he says. Usually I catch at least the first group.As the team begins competition in Metro this year, they'll need all the fitness they can muster.That league is going to be tough, he says. There are some hardcore runners over there. We'll see some of the best in the state early on. This first year will be a seasoning process, getting used to the level of competition.It will also be a seasoning process for a young Spartan group which has just eight seniors.But we do have a good depth of racing experience, he notes.With virtually the entire boys varsity lost to graduation - junior Joey Tarbill is the sole holdover from a team that came within a single point of advancing to the state meet - they are facing something of a rebuilding year.The girls are more experienced. Seniors Sarah Grue and Audrey Bennett went to state last year as individuals, and they're joined by fellow senior Becca Ivey, runnerup in the 800 meters at Star Track last spring who's coming out for cross country for the first time. Christopher is reluctant to single out any of his runners, saying that there isn't a kid here who doesn't have the potential to move up.I don't care where anyone finishes, because everyone contributes, he says. They're either in front pulling, in the middle carrying the center, or at the back pushing.He's especially excited about the different format that his runners will experience as a part of Metro. The five scheduled league meets all include three, four or five other teams and consist of boys' and girls' races. That means between 75 and 150 runners in each race, which in Christopher's view has two advantages.It'll give them good preparation for big meets, he says. They'll be used to running in crowds. And with that number of runners, everyone has someone close to them to race against. But going to Metro isn't the only change this year. After more than a decade as custodian at the high school, Christopher recently began his duties as a full-time officer with Bainbridge Police.The chief (Bill Cooper) was gracious enough to let me coach, he says. And I'm off on Thursdays and Fridays, so I can go to meets on my own time.He sees his role as extending beyond helping his runners to improve and race well.I'd like to improve relations between teens and cops on the island, he says. I know the relationship isn't always the best in the world, but I became a cop to do police work, not chase teens. Occasionally I'll show up for practice in a uniform, but there's no reason to be afraid. Some of these kids have probably never talked to a policeman. So this gives them the opportunity to be around a cop that they normally wouldn't get. "

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