Cross country teams capture historic state titles

Cross country teams capture historic state titles
Posted on 05/12/2021
Tahoma HS girls cross country athletes run in the virtual state meet

For the first time in Tahoma High School history, both the boys and the girls cross country teams won first place in the 4A Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association Virtual Cross Country State Meet. The “virtual” state meet, in which teams ran separately and submitted their times, was open to all 4A schools that wanted to participate and had a complete team.

As a team, Tahoma’s girls scored 36, with Central Valley taking second at 72 and Mt. Si in third at 104. The THS boys scored 89, with Newport (Bellevue) at 97 and Mt. Si in third at 101. In cross country, the lowest score wins. It’s rare for both teams to earn first place in the same year in general, and it appears only two schools have accomplished the feat in the past 20 years: Eisenhower in 2010 and Lewis & Clark in 2017, said Jeff Brady, Tahoma’s head coach.

“My first reaction to all of our times was excitement,” said sophomore Kate Sanders, who placed first for Tahoma’s girls. “I’ve never had so much energy after a race and it was because we were all so proud of ourselves and each other. … None of us would have run or trained as well as we did without each other and our coaches.”

Sanders acknowledged how different this year’s shortened, rescheduled season was from most cross country seasons. “I think the biggest thing that we did to prepare was never stop running. We had no idea how long the off season would be or when an opportunity to race would come so we didn’t take the cancelled seasons as a break but as time to train.”

“In my opinion one of the most important aspects of training is the team and community,” she continued. “We push each other so much, and having each other around makes running so much more fun! When we had to be apart because of COVID, even just the encouragement from teammates and the coaches really pushed us. And getting together for drills, when we could, helped the team to remember to keep training and pushing.”

Individually, Tahoma’s girls took third, fourth, fifth, eighth, 16th, 17th, and 22nd: Kate Sanders, 18 minutes 15.1 seconds Personal Record (PR); Sara Sanders, 18:22.4 PR; Faith Martinez, 18:22.7 Season Record (SR); Anika Nau, 19:05.8 SR; Julia Stuard, 19:27.7 PR; Theresa Barnhart, 19:29.3 SR; and Ella Benjamin, 19:33.9 PR. All of the athletes who raced at state are returning next year.

The boys individually placed sixth, eighth, 20th, 23rd, 32nd, 33rd and 46th: Cameron Stuard, 15:44.3 PR; Alex Kiefer, 15:48.7 PR; Daniel Castelluccio, 16:20.8 PR; Sam Clarke, 16:36.4 PR; Ryan Perkins, 16:54.0 PR; Jack Clarke, 16:54.6 SR; Brody Gustin, 17:11.4 PR. Stuard and Kiefer are seniors and the rest of the state team is returning next year.

“It truly was a challenging year. We had so many season date changes that created a challenge for this coaching staff to really get a program that would have the athletes ready to go,” Brady said. “I can’t say enough about the focus and motivation that Coach (Anne) Hobson, Coach (Jodi) Hoffbuhr and Coach (Brian) Martinez brought to the team.”

Because the state tournament couldn’t be hosted in one location due to COVID-19, the teams that chose to participate ran 3.1 miles (5,000 meters) on the track, which equals 12.5 laps. Tahoma’s team raced on the evening of Friday, April 23. “Running under the lights and being able to watch the determination on their faces for 12 ½ laps around the track was an incredible experience that we don’t normally get to see,” Brady said. “It was a year with a lot of emotions that ended the best way imaginable.”

“Every team in the state had an opportunity to compete, and these athletes stepped up to really perform at the highest level,” he continued. “They brought their best and they are truly champions!”

Hobson said Tahoma’s cross country runners persevered throughout this challenging year, and thrived against all odds. “With grit, determination and eyes on the prize, they worked for a State cross country podium spot. Our athletes ran month in, month out, spring, summer and winter, staying committed,” Hobson said, and added that coaching the entire team is incredibly rewarding. “Being at that Friday night race was a special experience. Every single one of our athletes ran lights out, inspired. They exceeded our collective expectations. It was a peak performance, and the times reflected just how talented this group is.”

“Having a dual State Champion cross country team is a fantastic achievement,” she said, and noted that the whole team contributed to the dual title.

The virtual state title was just “the icing on the cake” after the opportunity to compete this season, Martinez said. “It’s been a tough go for both athletes and coaches this last year with the track season being cancelled last year and the fall cross country season being pushed to the spring. These kids work so hard, and it was a blessing to see them get the chance to compete and put all their hard work to the test.”

“The championship title doesn’t only belong to the 14 runners that had the chance to run the virtual state meet, but every runner on the team because what isn’t seen on race day is the countless hours of miles and training behind the scenes that every runner completes in various weather conditions,” he said. “We have a value that we like to say -- ‘Make those around you better’ and if the 8th, 9th, 20th, or 30th runner on the team didn’t push the top 7 runners on the girls and boys teams, we wouldn’t have the success we had this year by winning the state title on both sides.”

“(We) coaches are so happy these kids had this opportunity and overcame all the obstacles this crazy year threw at them,” Martinez said. “They are heroes in our eyes, and we are so proud of all their hard work in the classroom and on the cross country course.”

Tahoma HS boys cross country athletes competing in the virtual state meet
Photo courtesy of Paul Woods
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