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Sports >  High school sports

Cross country preview: North Central turns to familiar faces to head girls, boys programs

Last year was another banner season for Greater Spokane League cross country. The GSL boys had the top three and five of the top 10 runners at state in 2019 – all seniors – while North Central’s girls finished 1-2-3-6-9 in another record-breaking performance.

There won’t be any state titles this season, but the league competition will be exciting as always.

That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of changes, though, and that starts with the storied NC programs, where both boys and girls teams will be under different leadership this season.

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Jan Janke isn’t a new coach, or even new to the program.

Far from it. She led NC’s girls to a state title in 2001 in her first nine-year stint and resumes the whistle from Dempsey Ortega, who stepped down after earning the UST&F national girls cross country coach of the year in 2019 after a second consecutive state title.

“It’s exciting for me to be back where I was before, doing what I love,” Janke said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”

One of the reasons Janke is so excited is the chance to coach her daughter for her senior season. You know, reigning two-time state champion Allie Janke.

“Back in 2002, I resigned because I was going to have her,” Jan Janke said. “And now, I’m going to get to come back this year as head coach and be coaching her team – it’s pretty special.

“Sometimes it’s like trying to switch your hat to make sure we’re clear on if I’m being mom at the time or being coach at the time.”

Allie Janke battled injuries last season, only to return for the district championships to win, then win again at state and then finish fourth at the Nike Northwest Regionals.

“Unless you have a camera on to watch how hard she cross-trained when she’s injured, how meticulous she is to do the core training, to get strong enough to get back in there … that you don’t have to say anything to her,” Jan Janke said. “The only thing I would ever have to say to her is, ‘Maybe you need to take a day off.’ ”

Janke doesn’t find herself coaching at home too much.

“You know, Allie is so self-motivated, that honestly most of it is what I would consider support,” she said. “All those kinds of things a mom would do for any like athlete that lives in their household.”

Four seniors from the 2019 champs, all top-nine finishers, have graduated.

“That’s a huge switch in leadership and ability and experience,” Janke said. “And then, starting a new program with COVID and not being able to see the kids and not being able to contact them in the halls, or recruit, has been pretty difficult.”

Most runners train year-round, but Janke said the team aspect of running is lost when they can’t train together.

“Through much of this summer, the girls that were remaining pulled in a few of the new freshmen, and they ran together.

“And then when we started ‘Summer 2.0’ the coaches were able to start working out with the kids and set up workouts.”

In addition to Allie Janke, two other members of the 2019 state title team return: senior Madison Lee and sophomore Kendall Carter.

Lee didn’t run before high school but came on during track her freshman year. She placed 20th at state her sophomore year but didn’t get the attention she might have otherwise received.

“She was kind of overshadowed by, you know, the top five and the team titles and so forth,” Janke said.

A hip injury required surgery and she missed her junior season.

“She’s a delight to work with. She works really hard,” Janke added.

Carter, a sophomore, has benefited by running with the best team in the state and competing in national events already.

“I don’t feel like she’s been coached all that much,” Janke said. “I think she’s got a ton of talent, so I’m excited to see what Kendall can do to.”

Big shoes to fill

Andrew Kimpel has heard the question a few times now. What’s it like to take over for a legend?

Kimpel has been an assistant at NC for four years, and he’s taking over for Jon Knight, who retired after 27 years, 11 consecutive state titles from 2006-16, one team and two individual national champions at NC.

No pressure.

“What Jon did nobody else has ever done,” Kimpel said. “Trying to compare me to him is not a fair comparison. Jon Knight is Jon Knight, and Andrew Kimpel is Andrew Kimpel.”

Kimpel’s NC roots run even deeper – he was part of Knight’s incredible run, a 2009 North Central graduate and part of the 2008 national championship title team.

“(Knight) had his things to work out early on in his early coaching days, and that’ll probably be the same for me – having to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

He’s humbled to be guiding the storied program, calling it “emotionally healing” and “more fulfilling and enriching” than prior career options.

“I never saw myself ever in this position,” Kimpel said. “I always thought once I was out of the program and went off to college that was the end of the chapter. Things panned out differently.”

Though Isaac Morris (fourth at state) and Nathan Carter (sixth) have graduated from 2019’s state third-pace team, Kimpel still has a deep squad led by senior Leif Swanson, who finished seventh in 2018 and 21st in 2019 and is headed to Washington State.

“His (2019) fall, for him, was a bit of a disappointment,” Kimpel said of Swanson, who was nursing an injury during state. “He’s been kind of under the radar, and COVID didn’t help.”

Swanson finished first in the first GSL race of the season on Saturday, with a time of 16 minutes, 20 seconds – almost a full minute ahead of the second-place finisher.

“He’s just an animal in workouts,” Kimpel said. “He had complete control of the entire race from start to finish.”

“He’s showing why he’s one of the top guys in the state of Washington, not just the league.”

Swanson is joined by two more state participants – juniors Zach Kness and Nathan Greiner – and several up-and-comers.

“My two through seven runners, they just really bought into the program and really kept each other accountable (through the pandemic),” Kimpel said. “Those guys are the glue. They were calling each other, getting in their runs. Because (the coaches) weren’t present. They were the MVPs of keeping this team intact.”

Though there’s no state title on the line this season, Kimpel reminds his runners that sometimes it’s harder to win a GSL cross country title than a state title.

“Literally everybody (in the GSL) has had some superstars come out of their program,” Kimpel said. “We keep telling the kids, ‘You’re part of one of the best leagues in the country, year in and year out.’

“What a privilege it is, to be in that situation, that they get to be part of this.”

4A/3A

Central Valley: Caleb Karchner (24th at state) and Alex Wright (25th) return off of last year’s team, which placed fourth at state for third-year coach Geoff Arte. Doug Pecha returns for his third season with the girls team, which returns seven starters, including state participants Sarah Pecha and Kylee Shakespeare.

Cheney: Coaches Derek Slaughter and Camille Mosely split duties on both teams. The boys lost a lot to graduation, but return state runner senior Beckett Schoenleber. “We have a huge bank of senior leadership with a couple sophomore rockets that would have helped our girls say hello to state in the 3A ranks,” Slaughter said. Sophomore Sam Habegger and senior Marion Mager-Resser were both state runners in 2019.

Ferris: Tom VanWinkle takes over as coach of the boys team, which is building. Senior Henry Moe will lead a young group. James Noble returns for his 20th season with the girls team. Three state qualifiers return, along with junior Annalise Toillion, who qualified in 2018.

Gonzaga Prep: Coach Stephen Manfred pulls double duty with the boys and girls team, back for his 16th season. Noelani Krauss is a two-time qualifier at state, leading 15 returning letter-winners on the girls team. Jonas Bears (fifth at state in 2019) graduated, but Manfred thinks “our boys team will be very competitive.”

Lewis and Clark: Coach Michael Lee returns for his 15th season with the boys team – without state champion Wil Smith, who graduated. Three return from last year’s state third-place finisher, led by Brian Bowers and Sam Kindl. Kevin Swaim’s girls team was second in the GSL and returns eight letter-winners, including state runners sophomore Bridget Burns (26th) and Audrey Thronson (52nd).

Mead: Fourth-year boys coach Austin Stuchell has 10 letter-winners back, including seniors Josh Braun and Marc Dugunet, both of whom were top 25 in regionals. The girls team was fifth at districts for coach Dori Whitford, back for her 14th season, and four letter-winners return.

Mt. Spokane: Two starters return for coach Scott Daratha’s boys team: senior Jon Hansen and sophomore Ben Sonneland. “Ben and Jon can run with the best in the GSL,” Daratha said. Senior Kahea Figueira, a top-10 runner in league last season, leads 10th-year coach Andy Sonneland’s girls team.

University: Ernie Aguilar takes over as boys coach with returning starters senior Riley Conrad and juniors Elijah Skidmore and Ian Koening. Todd Hawley is the new girls coach. Aayianna Fuller (seventh at state) runs for Gonzaga now, but senior Heidi Pranter and junior Taylor Schillinger are leaders.

2A

Pullman: Coach Allix Potratz-Lee returns for her second season after a pair of Great Northern League titles for both programs last year. Two-time state champ Eli Kabasenche graduated, but eight boys and six girls return. “We lost a couple incredible seniors, but we are returning a large and impressive group of very talented and young runners,” Potratz-Lee said.

Rogers: Coach Ken Bell, in his eighth season with the boys team, has four letter-winners back including Danny Lee, who took 10th at state last season, and fellow seniors Manny Brantley and Isaiah Hernandez. Katherine Charters takes over a rebuilding girls program, with six letter-winners lost to graduation. Senior Mariam Fakhreddin is the leader.

Shadle Park: Shawn Howard enters his sixth season coaching the boys team, which will be led by senior Marcus Lemon and freshman Abraham Little, who won last week in Shadle’s first league meet of the season.

West Valley: John Moir’s girls team has been district champs the last three years running. Allie Andrews qualified for state last year and the senior is a three-time all-league earner. The boys program, under third-year coach Mark Esvelt, lost top runner Kolby Green (eighth at state) to graduation. “Our roster is in flux and unsettled due to schedule conflicts some of our athletes are running into,” Esvelt said.

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