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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Chewelah boys cross country program hopes promising season finishes with a flourish at state meet

From left: David Onica, Jack Tottie, Blake Foster, Cole Foster, Maxwell Motteshard, Titus Tapia and Ty Crockett compete for Chewelah’s boys cross country team.  (Keenan Gray/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Keenan Gray For The Spokesman-Review

A group of runners heads through the streets of Chewelah, Washington, on a daily basis, logging miles and prepping for the cross country season.

People stop to watch and wonder what is happening as if they’ve never seen someone do such an activity in their lives before.

These aren’t just random tourists visiting the valley area.

“This is the Chewelah boys cross country team,” head coach Kindra Tapia tells everyone as they pass by.

“As we’re running through town, people are like, ‘Wow, those are a lot of kids. Like, what’s going on?’ ” Tapia said. “And I tell them, ‘That’s cross country.’ “

Originally from Monroe, Washington, Tapia and her family moved to Chewelah roughly 13 years ago because of a job change in the family.

Her husband’s side of the family has lived in Chewelah for quite some time, and they figured it would be a good place to raise the kids.

Since moving back, Tapia picked up running in her adulthood and took on a position at Jenkins Middle School as the track coach.

The team was small, but the opportunity to grow was certainly there.

After four years in the middle school position, a new job opened up at the high school for the head coaching position with the cross country team. At first, Tapia was hesitant to apply.

“I didn’t want the job,” she said. “I said I wasn’t qualified and there’s got to be somebody better, but now I’m here.”

She brought some assistance along from a former Chewelah runner. Shawn Crockett, who ran in the late 1980s for the Cougars and helped with the program the past few seasons, offered his time again to help train the boys.

“They needed a coach,” Tapia said. “Shawn needed some help and I do love running. I do think it’s something you can do forever. I am passionate about it, and I want to build this … mainly I knew these kids needed somebody to be here and I believed in them all.”

Historically speaking, the Chewelah boys cross country team has been a successful program. In the early 1990s to early 2000s, the Cougars won three state team titles at the 1A level – 1992, ’95 and ’96.

Last year’s team, which had five runners, came home with a third-place trophy from the State 2B/1B meet, highlighted by senior Zeke Crockett (seventh place) and junior Cole Foster (11th).

Sophomore Ty Crockett, Zeke’s younger brother, also had a good day, placing 25th .

With Foster and Ty Crockett returning this season, the Cougars already had a solid 1-2 punch. It was just a matter of getting more kids out to provide a team.

“I said, ‘If I take this job, I want to grow this,’ ” Tapia said. “I don’t want it to be three kids, I want it to be big. I want people to be excited about running.”

Nine kids turned out this season, almost double the amount from last year.

“I knew Cole and Ty would definitely go to state,” Tapia said. “My goal was to see how many kids we could get to state and to see how many kids we could get to do cross country. Our team has been small for years. This is the biggest team we’ve had in a long time.”

Joining Foster and Crocket on the team are seniors Blake Foster, Cole’s twin brother and member of the 2021 team; Titus Tapia, coach Tapia’s son and a former football player; Jack Tottie, a foreign exchange student from Sweden; David Onica, another foreign exchange student from Romania; and freshman Maxwell Motteshard.

Without any expectations set, the team showed promise from the start and continued to get better as weeks went by.

In their first big meet of the season at the Battle for the 509 Invite, the Cougars finished second in the small-school division behind Lakeside, which has won three consecutive State 1A titles.

They also beat local 2A schools Shadle Park, Pullman and Rogers in the team standings.

Cole Foster ran the race of his life, finishing second in a 5,000-meter personal-best time of 15 minutes, 46.84 seconds, placing him No. 1 individually for 2B/1B schools. He remains in that spot heading into the state meet.

“All of the team has put in a lot of work this year,” Foster said. “Not only for me was that race big, but we had basically everybody PR at that race, which was great. I think it gave people a sense of confidence for what we could do, especially against schools our size.”

Momentum carried forward for the Cougars following the 509 meet. In October’s final weekends, Chewelah earned a second-place finish at the Richland Invite, won the Northeast 2B/1B League title and won the 2B/1B regionals title on its home golf course to advance to this weekend’s state championship meet in Pasco.

“Just seeing how much everyone has improved,” Ty Crockett said. “I ran decent last year, but really running with Cole every day, pushing each other. We’d come back from long runs and the last 10 minutes of it were flying. We’re always just pushing each other and trying to get better.”

For a group made up of a first-year head coach, three veteran runners, a former football player, two foreign exchange students and a freshman, it’s a team that has surprised many people .

This weekend in Pasco will be the school’s first chance at competing for a state championship since the 1996 season. A win over good competition could define this season and what’s to come for the program’s future.

“It would mean all the hard work we put in has paid off,” Cole Foster said. “We tried last year – of course we only had five boys on the team. Now, we have nine. It would mean that me, Ty, Titus, Blake, Jack and everybody that’s been putting in a lot of work this year … we’re really mentally tough, so it’d mean a lot to me and the team.”

The state meets take place Saturday at the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco. Races begin at 9:30 a.m., with the 2B/1B races set for 11:30 .