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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  High school sports

Valley Flash running club wins National Junior Olympic Cross Country championship for ages 15-18

From left, Kellen Souza, Aaron Wright (ages 13-14), Ethan Sheneman, Alex Wright, Colin Wright, Jacob Nicholls, Landon Stafford, James Tanner, Giovanni Ferraro and coach Frankie Ferraro.  (Courtesy, Frankie Ferraro)
From left, Kellen Souza, Aaron Wright (ages 13-14), Ethan Sheneman, Alex Wright, Colin Wright, Jacob Nicholls, Landon Stafford, James Tanner, Giovanni Ferraro and coach Frankie Ferraro. (Courtesy, Frankie Ferraro)

With mud splattering legs and caking spikes to the point of being unrecognizable, the Valley Flash runners traversed the sloppy landscape in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Cross County Championships in Paris, Kentucky, on Dec. 11.

The team represented the region well, topping the 15-18 age bracket with 77 points, besting the second place Prospect Park (Brooklyn, New York) runners by 10 points and topping the 12-team field.

No preparation could have readied the squad for what they endured on that Saturday.

A day removed from the deadly and destructive tornado that ripped through western Kentucky, the remnants of that storm flushed through Bourbon County causing the challenging conditions. Bourbon County Park turned into a mud pit with three to four inches of mud replacing the dirt course.

The goal was to start fast as head coach Frankie Ferraro knew the conditions would limit the amount of ground that could be made up during the race.

For 3.1 miles , the boys fought together.

“For them to compete and maintain their position during the race, continue to battle other teams off, it was, as a coach – you don’t get many opportunities like this, where you just know at the end of the day, your team basically just gutted it out as a team, they ran together, they ran in pairs, they pulled each other along,” Ferraro said. “I’ve been coaching for a while it was one of the more fun races to be a part of as well to coach.”

The chance to win a national title didn’t materialize overnight or even on the practice courses. Valley Flash has morphed from a program with four runners four years ago to 65 this year.

For a club team that relies on recruitment to fill out its roster, Valley Flash has been able to snag runners who already spend a majority of their year running for their schools.

It’s not always an easy pitch.

But as Ferraro puts it, runners run.

After pushing for state titles during the school year, the runners made a concerted effort to come together for their club and to go for the national championship.

They designed custom jerseys and embraced the team attitude. As the older group began its march forward, the younger groups followed suit.

Running through snow fall, windstorms and rain, Ferraro needed his runners to be able to endure any element and any condition.

“I know some of the parents raise their eyebrows,” Ferraro said. “Not after nationals, (now) they’re like, ‘Oh, we see why you make us run.’ The only time runners don’t run is if there’s lightning. Parents will text me all the time, just checking in with the weather and practice. And I reply the same way every time: runners run, period.”

That mantra led to the national title and six total All-Americans.

All-Americans are awarded by being one of the top-25 runners in an age group.

In the 17-18 group, Alex Wright (17:40.11) took fifth, Ethan Sheneman (17:44.30) sixth, James Tanner (17:52.17) eighth and Kellen Souza (18:24.73) 17th were All-Americans.

Jacob Nicholls in the 15-16 age range finished 17th with a time of 18:27.12.

And in the 8 and under: eight-year-old Danny Hughes snagged an All-American award as well.

But the 15-18 title was won not just on the backs of the All-Americans, as the squad of eight boys all needed to perform well for the title to come to Spokane.

Giovanni Ferraro (19:01.18), Landon Stafford (19:09.55) and Colin Wright (19:41.30) rounded out the team.

Giovanni had to stay in front of his pack as his dad pushed him the final 800 meters and Stafford and Wright had to settle in front of the New England Elite Track Club.

After the unofficial results were posted showing Valley Flash atop the podium, the team went wild and just started cheering.

Even though the job was done on the course, Valley Flash still had work to do in the mud.

“Everybody was stuck (trying to leave),” Ferraro said. “I told the boys that they left their spikes on and just took off running for the parking lot after winning the national championship, pushing cars out to get free. It was so cool. They came up to get their award, but there was a car that got stuck and they jumped out of line and started pushing that car to get them out. They’re just a good group of dudes.”

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