Cross country runners to watch

BOYS

Jon Rodeheffer

Oak Harbor, So.

Rodeheffer burst onto the scene as a freshman when he won the Sehome Invite in his first-ever high school competition. According to Oak Harbor head coach Eric Peterson, he isn’t physically imposing, but his drive to get better is. “Jon is all of 90 pounds soaking wet,” Peterson said. “He’s starting to grow a little bit but he’s just got one of those internal drives to keep going. The longer the race the more he just pounds it out.” At the 3-Course Challenge in Seaside,Ore., which features over 40 teams, Rodeheffer placed second in the 5,000 Meters Moderate Course. The next closest first-year runner was in 12th place, over a minute behind him. “As a freshman, that’s pretty much unheard of,” said Oak Harbor head coach Eric Peterson. “He was up there with the junior and senior guys.”

Aaron Roe

Jackson, sophomore

As a freshman, Roe was the top finisher for a Jackson team that finished third at the 4A state tournament in 2011, where he placed 17th. He also went to state in the mile and two-mile events for the Timberwolves’ track and field team. “We were well aware of his potential,” said Jackson boys cross country coach Eric Hruschka. The Timberwolves’ coach is looking to improve on that last state result, and thinks Roe will be a key part of Jackson’s effort to do so. “We want to do better than that. We want to improve on our third place last year,” Hruschka said. “He’s a pretty determined kid and a really serious runner.”

Ryan Bradford

Kamiak, Sr.

Kamiak finished ninth at the 2011 state tournament, with Bradford being the team’s top finisher. This season, the Knights return six of the seven runners who competed in that state tournament. Bradford, who will be an Eagle Scout this year, is one of four seniors that are back to lead Kamiak, and looks even better than he did last season according to Kamiak head coach Charley LeWarne. In fact, LeWarne said all four seniors – who have ran together for four years no – do. “All of the guys had really productive summers,” he said. “They have all put in several hundred miles over the summer.” The Knights were ranked No. 5 in the state in the coach’s preseason poll.

Mason Nicol

Lake Stevens, Sr.

Lake Stevens head coach Cliff Chaffee was one of the people surprised – and happy – when Nicol won the Wesco league championship in 2011. “We knew he was most certainly capable,” Chaffee said. “Mason was a little bit of a surprise league champ. … He’s a little bit unpredictable but on the other hand when you go to state in cross country, you’re obviously talented.” Chaffee is hoping Nicol can continue to improve this season, along with his Viking teammates, and help Lake Stevens return to the state tournament. “They’re a little bit motivated,” Chaffee said. “They’re a little bit disappointed we didn’t get to state last year. We kind of have some unfinished business.”

Andrew Ayers

King’s, So.

Ayers will help lead a King’s team ranked No. 4 in the state in the coach’s preseason poll – just like the girls’ team. The sophomore, who also plays basketball at King’s – finished ninth in the 1A state tournament in his inaugural cross country season, and this year hopes to get to the prestigious Border Clash race in Oregon that features the top runners from the western U.S. “He’s ready for a big season,” said Knights’ head coach Rod Wilcox. “His goals are Border Clash or beyond.”

GIRLS*

Katie Bianchini

Glacier Peak, Sr.

Bianchini, Glacier Peak’s No. 2 runner behind star Amy Eloise-Neale, is a pretty spectacular runner in her own right. The senior finished fifth at the 3A state tournament last season. “I call her the best No. 2 runner in the nation,” said Grizzlies’ head coach Dan Parker. “She’s an awesome force in herself.” Bianchini and Neale are friends and co-captains of this year’s Glacier Peak team, which took the state title in 2010 and finished second last season. “Their interest is only in bettering themselves and the team. They work side by side in workouts,” Parker said. “She understands who Amy Eloise is but she also understands how amazing she is as well. She just tries to do the best she possibly can do.”

Christina Wicker

Oak Harbor, Sr.

Wicker competed in the state tournament last season, but her shining moment occurred earlier in the year at the 3-Course Challenge in Seaside, Ore., a race that regularly draws over 40 teams. Wicker won the 5,000-Meter Hard Course by four seconds. “That’s pretty impressive,” said Oak Harbor head coach Eric Peterson. “It was the highlight of her season.” Peterson says returning to the state tournament and cracking the top 20 is a reasonable goal the Wildcats and Wicker have for her final season at Oak Harbor. “We tell her what needs to be done and she goes out and does it,” Peterson said.

Brooke Kingma

Jackson, So.

“She’s one of the top runners in our area,” said Jackson girls cross country coach Alan Briggs. “She had a phenomenal season as a freshman.” In her first high school season, Kingma (at left) helped the Jackson girls team to a sixth place finish at state. “She was our top runner all season in every race,” Briggs said, noting that Kingma was even injured part of the season with shin splints. She finished 14th at the 4A state tournament last season while constantly impressing Briggs. “She’s always in high gear,” he said. “This girl likes to go fast. She just wants to go faster. It’ll be really fun to watch her grow throughout her high school career and see what she can accomplish.”

Bri Gibson

Snohomish, So.

Last season as a freshman, Gibson was the top runner for the Snohomish team that finished seventh at the state tournament. “As an individual she really had a strong inaugural season. She just kind of kept getting stronger throughout,” said Snohomish coach David LeWarne. “It wasn’t a huge surprise but you still got to run the race and it’s still tough to pull off.” LeWarne said Gibson is a strong addition to the Snohomish team, and helps the strong chemistry of the Panthers. “She’s a competent racer and really is quite mature as far as the way she races,” LeWarne said. “I really trust that she’s going to make the best decisions for herself and the team.”

Kacey Kemper

King’s, Jr.

Kacey Kemper is ranked No. 2 coming into the season, “although there will be plenty of competition with the girls in her area” says King’s coach Rod Wilcox. The Knights are ranked No. 4 in the coach’s preseason poll. Last season, Kemper finished fourth at the 1A state tournament. Two girls that placed ahead of her have graduated, opening the door for Kemper to improve on last year’s result. The Knights’ captain has an unusual summer workout compared to other top runners: she takes them off. “She spends summers enjoying herself instead of running,” Wilcox said. “It’s very unusual (for top runners). But she still runs incredibly.”

* We understand that THE girls cross country runner to watch is Amy-Eloise Neale. That’s why we wrote a story about her here.

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