November 7, 2009 in Washington Voices

Post-flu Bears team rarin’ to run

Cross-country squad hopes for season best at state meet Saturday
Steve Christilaw

The Central Valley High School girls cross-country team has qualified for the state championships in Pasco on Saturday. Front row; Emily Owens; Leah Amsden; Josie Warner; Madi Barnes; Ashleigh Seely; Jamie Lambie; Amberlynn Weber. Top row; Alexandria Moore; Allison Yost; Amanda Seely; Ashley Renz; Chantelle Fitting; Skye Sanders; Kiah Condos.
(Full-size photo)

Dennis McGuire has spent the past couple months deeply involved with health care.

The Central Valley High School girls cross-country coach has nursed his young athletes through a season-long outbreak of the flu that has tested his exceptionally deep roster.

Today, healthy for the first time all season, the Bears will run in the State 4A girls championship meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

“We’ve had a lot of swine flu going around and we’ve been fighting it all season,” McGuire admitted. “We finally had the chance to run our top seven runners all in the same race for the first time at regionals (last week). I’m not sure how close we are to 100 percent healthy right now, but we’re as healthy as we’re going to get.”

The flu settled in midway through the season, senior team captain Ashley Renz said.

“It was frustrating,” she said. “We’d just start to get some girls back and someone else would get sick.”

As the only varsity runner to stay healthy all season, Renz said she’s not taking any chances before today’s finale.

“I’m not sharing water bottles with anyone, I can tell you that,” she laughed.

Sophomore Leah Amsden said the team has taken a lot of health precautions.

“Coach McGuire has been telling us all season long to stay home if we’re sick – to not get on the bus until we’re over it,” she said. “I think that’s helped. We’ve all had to be careful.”

The Bears’ No. 1 runner this season, sophomore Jamie Lambie, missed the team’s district meet with a case of the flu and ran last week’s regional meet with a cough.

“I felt like I’d run my best race of the year the week before districts and I was excited going into that race,” she said. “And then I got sick. I tried to suffer through for a couple days before I saw a doctor, but once I did I started to get better.”

The sickness carries over. Sophomores Amberlynn Weber and Emily Owens qualified for state in the wheelchair division, despite the latter battling chair problems.

“It’s been hard for Emily to get things worked out with her chair,” Renz said. “She’s finally gotten it fixed and she’s ready to go now, too.”

In a way, getting sick could actually work to the team’s advantage at state, Lambie said.

“I think it’s made me hungrier to get out there and run well,” she said. “I’m finally over the cough and I feel like I’m back to full strength. I wasn’t last week and I feel like I have something to prove.

“When I was out at districts, (freshman No. 2) Skye Sanders had to step up and be the leader and she did great. She broke the 20-minute barrier for the first time and she’s running stronger than ever. I’m looking forward to her running with me (today).”

Running together is the secret to CV’s success. It helped them to a third-place finish at last year’s state meet and, despite battling the flu, to a No. 9 ranking headed into today’s championship race – one slot behind Wenatchee, a team the Bears beat in last week’s regional.

“We were in a race and I could feel myself want to quit,” Amsden said. “I was running with Skye and she saw I was struggling. She said ‘Come on, let’s go,’ and she took off. I knew she was going through the same things I was going through and I wasn’t going to let her down. She helped me. It’s what we all do, and it’s very important.”

There have been some wonderful surprises along the way to the final meet of the season.

“We expected Skye to come in and be very good as a freshman because she had a lot of success running in middle school,” McGuire said. “We had a few first-time runners come in and surprise this year. Kiah Condos and Chantelle Fiting have never run cross-country before this year and they’ve been running very well.”

The biggest surprise, he said, has been freshman Alexandria Moore.

“When we practice she’s usually in the back of the pack, but we all kind of thought she was faster than she showed,” Renz said. “Then she gets into a race and she just took off.”

“I was running with her when she took off,” Amsden said. “It was early in the race and I thought we’d catch up with her, but we never did.”

She hasn’t looked back all season.

“We’re a much deeper and younger team than I expected us to be,” McGuire said. “Our junior varsity team won the league JV meet with 18 points. Just one runner cracked our top five finishers and she was from Mead.

“I have a bunch of runners on my JV who would be varsity at any other school in the league.”

Depth like that is built into the CV culture, Renz said.

“Coach McGuire tells us that he’s not coaching an elite team,” she explained. “He says he’s coaching an entire cross-country program. Most of the time we have the varsity and the junior varsity running together in practice. We all are there to help each other and to push each other. It’s what we expect from one another.”

What McGuire expects to see today, however, is much less clear.

A year ago the Bears placed third at the state meet, despite not running their best race.

“I think we peaked too early last year,” McGuire said. “We had a great final meet (of the regular season) and ran great races at district and regionals. Sometimes that happens.

“This year we haven’t run our best race yet. I don’t know if that will happen this weekend or not. But I know it hasn’t happened yet.”

Lambie said she and her teammates are excited to go out and show just how good they can truly be.

“Last year I felt like I ran my best race against Mead in the last meet of the regular season,” she said. “I ran well at districts and at regional. It’s hard to stay at that level for four weeks in a row and I don’t think we ran our best race.

“This year it’s different. We know going in that we still haven’t run our best race and we can just go for it. It’s going to be fun.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email