Lakeside’s boys cross country team had never before won more than three cross country meets in a season, and has only two returning varsity runners and nary a senior in its lineup.
Yet the Eagles have taken their first state qualifying effort in stride.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said coach Matt Sullivan. “But qualifying was not as big as I thought it would be because we expected it. I think they’ll be jacked on Saturday.”
Lakeside, with junior state veteran Mike Witt and six runners who will be there for the first time, is in the Class A meet Saturday in Pasco.
“I have my own goals,” said Witt, who finished a disappointing sixth in district. “But going as a team makes it a lot more fun.”
Witt said that despite four sophomores and a freshman on varsity, team potential became evident last summer.
“A lot of the freshmen came on in track and we went to the Oregon camp in Eugene which helped a lot,” he said.
Early season success in a meet hosted by St. George’s, in which the team had six of the top eight placers, cemented expectations.
A week later, the Eagles defeated ultimate State AA team qualifier Riverside in the Farragut Invitational in Idaho.
“I thought that was special,” said Sullivan.
Lakeside’s only Northeast A league loss was to defending state champion and likely repeater Chewelah.
Behind Witt, the supporting cast made quantum improvement. Sophomore Perry Welch improved his times by three to four minutes per race. He went from junior varsity last year to 14th in the district varsity race last week.
Trevor Blackwell, also a sophomore and the only other returning varsity runner, improved from 34th to 18th place.
Varsity newcomers - freshman Shawn Close, who was 23rd at district, sophomore Trevor Smith, 27th, junior Derek Smith and sophomore Brett Larson - solidified the lineup.
Witt, said Sullivan, is the team leader. Welch was a baseball player who discovered that his future was running. Close transferred in from Mead. Smith went out last summer and ran on his own.
“Look at the group. All but one are track runners,” said Sullivan. “It was just kind of a decision that they were young and pretty good and were going to get better.”
Sullivan is Lakeside’s baseball coach. Coaching cross country was secondary.
“I decided if I was going to do the job I would do it well,” he said.
This year he went to the Oregon camp with his runners, “hung out with (Mead coach Pat) Tyson and (Oregon coach Bill) Dellinger for a week to prepare myself better.”
A natural worrier, Sullivan said he tends to over-analyze things, while his runners urge him to sit back and relax.
“In baseball a coach can control the game and change momentum,” he said. “In cross country as soon as they are at the starting line it’s out of your hands.”
And into seven pairs of feet.
Witt, who was 47th in state last year, would like to crack the top 10.
“I think district was the worst race I had all year,” he said. “My legs felt heavy.”
The team hopes to place likewise.
“The big key is to run loose and relaxed,” said Witt. “I think there’ll be less pressure on us than at district.”
Besides, Saturday’s race is primarily a trial run for a team that should come back intact next year. Their goal is to win state at that time.
“To be honest, we’re a year away,” said Sullivan. “No one is shaving yet. When Mother Nature kicks in, they’ll be even better.”
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