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Sports >  High school sports

Cross country preview: Mead girls hope to build upon success; West Valley boys set sights higher

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 8, 2021

Members of the Mead girls cross country team (from left): Elle Vanning, Raegan Borg, Alexis Parker, Alanna Parker, Charlotte Cullen, Courtney Osborn, Abbie Driskel.  (Keenan Gray/For The Spokesman-Review)
Members of the Mead girls cross country team (from left): Elle Vanning, Raegan Borg, Alexis Parker, Alanna Parker, Charlotte Cullen, Courtney Osborn, Abbie Driskel. (Keenan Gray/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Keenan Gray For The Spokesman-Review

For as long as Dori Whitford has been the head girls cross country coach at Mead, the mentality for her teams has been the same: “Go out and do your best.”

It’s simple, yet proven to be a positive mantra for the program.

This past spring, the Mead girls were one of the youngest cross country teams in the Greater Spokane League, competing against more veteran teams from Central Valley, Lewis and Clark and North Central. Despite their youth, the Panthers continued to go out and do their best regardless of the situation.

It won them a GSL title.

“I knew we were going to be good, but I didn’t know we were going to have freshmen coming in crazy like that,” Whitford said.

What appeared to be a rebuilding season for Mead turned out to be one of the most successful teams in recent years. In addition to the GSL title, the Panthers earned third place in the virtual State 3A meet.

“From the beginning of the six weeks from the first meet to the last, we were a different group. We just focused on doing your best,” Whitford said.

The majority of Mead’s success came from three-year varsity runners twins Alanna and Alexis Parker. Everyone else followed their lead.

“They’ve grown so much,” Whitford said. “They’re not loud, bossy leaders, but they are like, ‘I’ll do this. Are you guys coming?’ and the rest of the team will just follow them. They all know what they are supposed to do, and Alanna and Alexis have been great about doing that.”

Alanna and Alexis were among the top individuals last season in the GSL, running personal-best 5,000-meter times of 18 minutes, 42.9 seconds and 18:43.3. They were also top-10 finishers at the GSL 4A/3A culminating event and the virtual State 3A meet at the end of the season.

“Everyone was enjoying themselves and having fun, but also working hard at the same time,” said Alanna.

Both twins have competed at the state meet in their careers, but it’s been two years since they last toed the line in Pasco.

Alanna finished 40th in her only appearance as a sophomore.

Alexis was 63rd her freshman year but battled through sickness en route to placing 104th as a sophomore.

“I’m just hoping to have an overall better experience at state,” Alexis said. “I had a fever as a sophomore at state, so I’m hoping to feel good about how I did this time around, no matter what place I get.”

Charlotte Cullen, Raegan Borg, Samantha Pierce, and Elle Vanning were the among strong cohort of freshman runners and had an immediate impact in the short season helping Mead to its success. All four of them finished in the top 30 at the culminating event.

“It was nice to see our team become so close since there was a lot of new freshmen, and it was great we got to work together,” Alanna said.

Now as sophomores, they’ll finally get to experience a full-length season.

“It will be fun to show them all the ropes of invites and other stuff that goes on in a full season,” Alexis said. “Just to experience going to an invite with our new team will be great, but it’s nice to experience a 10-week season.”

With their entire varsity roster returning this fall, the Mead girls should considered state title contenders.

West Valley sets sights higher

The unknown was certainly a trending theme last spring among all GSL cross country teams, especially for a West Valley boys team that was eager to get back out on the course to figure out their identity as individuals and as a group.

“The message was to get better as individuals, but also really take advantage of every opportunity,” West Valley boys coach Mark Esvelt said.

“A lot of them were starved for a chance to compete again because it had been so long since so many of them had a chance to race against somebody.”

West Valley struggled early, as 2019 state participants Liam and Lain Hyde missed the Eagles’ first two meets.

The pair debuted in WV’s third race, against Clarkston and Pullman, and it was a different story. The brothers both finished top three, leading West Valley to a seven-point win over Pullman. Breakout performances from Matthew Buck, John Aley and Henry Lohstroth set a new tone for the rest of the year.

“Once we got our top two guys back, we got our confidence back and started to get in good groove,” Buck said. “We had a great meet against Clarkston and then beat Pullman for the first time in a couple years and that gave us the boost heading into the GSL championship.”

Having a full team was momentum changer. It showed the Eagles were at their best in the GSL 2A culminating event when they won the team title by eight points over Pullman again.

West Valley hasn’t qualified for state as a team in 14 years. Esvelt feels this year’s returning runners are ready to break that drought, especially his senior leaders.

“I know they have been serious about their summer training and have set goals for themselves,” Esvelt said. “I expect them to be leaders, and with them graduating after this year, we want to make sure they are helping to progress this program even when they are gone.”

4A/3A

Central Valley: Ethan Sheneman and Landon Stafford look to fill the void of graduation for the Bears boys. CV girls were second in the virtual State 4A meet and have four top-16 finishers returning, including Kylee Shakespeare, who finished ninth.

Cheney: Many of Cheney’s boys showed major improvements from the 2019 season in the spring, especially Finnegan Syrie and Adam Estock. Samantha Habegger is only returning girl with state experience. She finished 29th at the 2019 2A meet.

Ferris: The girls will be made up of mainly seniors, led by former state participants Annalise Toillion and Emily Caniglia. The boys team will have majority of juniors, led by Isaac Bruce.

Gonzaga Prep: Losing Jake McIntyre to graduation hurts, but Caleb Richardson could be one to fill that void for what should be another solid boys group. For the girls, Noelani Krauss qualified for state as a freshman but has missed the past two seasons.

Lewis and Clark: Audrey Thronson should factor as one of best individual runners in 4A. With Alice Groza and Bridget Burns, they make up the best girls trio in the GSL. The boys lost only two runners to graduation and will be mainly made up of seniors and juniors this year, led by Brin Bowers and Evan Bruce.

Mead: Coming off a GSL title and a runner-up finish in the virtual State 3A meet last spring, the boys return a ton of upperclassmen, led by Brycen Gardner, and will be one of the top teams competing for a state trophy this season.

Mt. Spokane: A bounce-back year could be in the offing for junior Ben Sonneland and the boys team after a sluggish start in cross country followed by a terrific outing in track to end the school year. Second-year runner Tabi Koscielski should be expected to fill the No. 1 role on the girls team following Kahea Figueira’s graduation.

North Central: Only a pandemic kept the girls from capturing a fourth straight state title. Allie Janke, one of the most decorated girls runners in state history, has graduated, but Kendall Carter ran extremely well at the end of last season and will expected to lead. The boys return a trio of juniors in Ethan Greiner, Zach Kness and Jonah Aden that has a 14-second spread between its 5,000 times.

Ridgeline: It’s the beginning of a new running era this fall. CV transfer Ruby Bryntesen had a great freshman year for the Bears, placing 11th in the virtual State 4A girls meet.

University: The boys feature a four-runner spread of 37 seconds, including Grady Ahlquist and Joseph Williamson, and it will be something to consider when looking at their depth. Taylor Schillinger comes off a track season full of PRs entering the fall for the girls team that continues to be in a rebuild.

2A

Clarkston: Mark Tadzhimatov is one to keep an eye out for the boys team. The junior was 10th at the GSL 2A culminating event but ranks No. 1 in returning 5,000 times for GSL 2A running 17:30.8.

East Valley: Ethan Sheffler and Abby Crossley were both top-five finishers at the GSL 2A culminating event in their respected races and are expected to build on that success for potential state individual births this fall.

Pullman: The boys are in the mix to be league contenders this fall with plenty of underclassmen talent returning, including Liam Fitzgerald, who was fourth at the GSL 2A culminating event. The girls were third at the virtual State 2A meet and have five of their six state participants back, led by Nicole Jones, who placed 13th.

Rogers: Daniel Lee and Isaiah Hernandez leave behind an incredible legacy as they’ll hand the keys of the team off to Jaden Rowe for his senior year. The girls group is young and looking to get better after a season of PR’s led by Ellabelle Taylor.

Shadle Park: The Highlanders will have a huge hole to fill with their top runner, Marcus Lemon, moving on to collegiate running. Luke Hammond and Abraham Little are the two runners to consider this coming season to fill that void.

West Valley: Kat Adamson is the only runner remaining from WV’s state fourth-place showing 2019. She finished 27th with her personal-best run and will be expected to be in the mix again this fall to finish in the top 30. Roxanne Fredericksen will be another Eagle to watch after a good first year of running.

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