By David Krueger Herald Writer
Connor Willgress spent last season watching many of his good friends on the Jackson cross country team with the spectators.
This season Willgress decided to join them on the course.
The senior, who is big part of the Timberwolves’ basketball program, decided to use cross country to stay in shape, and have some fun during his last year at Jackson. Willgress has made an immediate impact on the Jackson team, which finds itself returning to the 4A state championship today in Pasco.
“We talked about it a little bit last year,” said Jackson head coach Eric Hruschka. “It was really his decision. He just jumped into it wholeheartedly. He’s been good friends with a lot of kids on the team and really supportive of the team. He watched the program from afar.”
Hruschka maintains that basketball is still Wilgress’ No. 1 sport — he missed a few cross country meets early in the season to go on recruiting visits — but quickly adds that Willgress has had an incredibly successful season and become an integral part of the Timberwolves’ cross country team.
“I talked to him early in the season and said, ‘You’re going to be able to contribute to our program. I’m just not sure at what level,’” Hruschka said. “There’s a learning curve. But he’s doing things that it takes some kids two or three seasons to do. He’s a smart kid. He’s very perceptive.”
The Jackson boys, ranked No. 5 in the most recent Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association poll, are hoping to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish at the state meet in Pasco. Hruschka has watched Willgress steadily improve all season and the coach is hoping that trend continues at state.
“I’d like to see him run really well. He’s taken a step forward two weeks ago at (the Wesco) conference championships and he took a step at (the district) regional championships and got even better,” Hruschka said. “If he could take one more step at state that’d be great. If he can repeat a high quality performance like that it’s going to help our team and help us reach our potential.”
The Timberwolves girls also qualified for state after finishing 12th at the meet last season.
Hruschka said that regardless of what happens he’s proud of Willgress, and that he hopes after cross country is done his success continues on the basketball court.
“I want to see Jackson basketball win the state championship too,” Hruschka said.
Can Terrace girls overtake GP?
The Mountlake Terrace girls cross country team has inched closer and closer to perennial 3A power Glacier Peak in recent weeks.
After losing to the Grizzlies by 28 points in the Wesco 3A league championships on Oct. 26, Mountlake Terrace closed the gap to eight points in last Saturday’s 3A District 1 championship race. In that race the Hawks had three of the top four finishers, including freshman Katherine Gustafson who won the race.
“That’s an up-and-coming team,” said Glacier Peak head coach Dan Parker after the meet. “Very impressive.”
Mountlake Terrace, No. 9 in the most recent poll, will need another strong showing to compete with No. 1 Glacier Peak, the defending 3A state champions. While star runners Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Bianchini have graduated, the Grizzlies have plenty of talent on their 2013 squad with freshman Heidi Smith, who finished second at the district meet.
Glacier Peak had five runners finish in the top 15 at the district race including Smith, Katherine Dittmann (seventh), Megan Davis (10th), Mikayla Ingram (11th) and Natalie Church (13th).
How will the LeWarne brothers do?
The LeWarne brothers swear it’s a “friendly” competition between the two.
David, the coach at Snohomish, and Charlie, who coaches at Kamiak, said that all the Wesco coaches – including the brothers – are a very close-knit group, even though Charlie’s Knights kept the Snohomish boys team from qualifying for the state championship.
But both brothers will have a chance to coach in Pasco this weekend, with the Kamiak boys and Snohomish girls both qualifying for the state meet. Last season the Kamiak boys finished 12th overall while the Panther girls placed sixth.
Both are hoping to top that this season.
Snohomish, which was ranked No. 6 in the most recent Cross Country Coaches Association poll, returns star runner Bri Gibson, as well as Kyla Shade, Hailey Nyquist and Hannah Berntson, who all competed at last year’s state championships.
Kamiak’s top runners include Jerry Behrens, Seth Villanueva and Ben Halladay.
Can Lakewood win it all?
The No. 1-ranked team in 2A, the Lakewood boys team comes into the state tournament with high hopes. After having just one runner at state last year in Douglas Davis, the entire Lakewood boys team will be going this time around.
Davis, who finished 29th at the state meet in 2012, was the top finisher for the Cougars at last weekend’s District 1/2 Championship meet at fourth overall, followed closely by teammates Mitchell Darrah and Drew Cabales, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively.
Alex Cooper (20th) also posted a top-25 finish for Lakewood, which had its final scorer, Preston Davis, come in at No. 27.
Will Mother Nature finally cooperate?
In a season that has been plagued by bad weather, local teams hope that the wind and rain will hold off for just one more day at the state meet.
Last weekend the wind was so bad, fallen trees delayed the 4A District run until Monday. The event also had to be moved to a new location, from Lincoln Park in Seattle to Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah.
“This is the worst cross country season, for weather, by far in my 25 years that I’ve seen,” Parker said after the 3A District 1 meet last Saturday that also featured a constant rain and gusty winds. “The whole season.”
The forecast for Saturday calls for a high of 52 degrees and winds at 4 miles per hour. There’s also a 20 percent chance of rain according to weather.com
“If it doesn’t crank up and get super windy, if the wind doesn’t kick up which it can over there, it can be great fall running weather,” Hruschka said.