By David Krueger Herald Writer
Currently ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, the Kamiak boys cross country team has had its share of success on the course this year.
But perhaps the Knights’ most surprising victory came off the cross country course.
“The Homecoming King is on the cross country team,” said Kamiak head coach Charley LeWarne. “When does that happen?”
Yes, the Kamiak cross country team has reached King status. Starting with a strong showing at the Sehome Invitational to start the season, and going all the way up to last week’s Mukilteo School Distric-Everett School District showdown, the Knights have made their presence known.
“It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with running,” LeWarne said. “They’re nice, smart kids, and have that team bond, that connection that makes them a good team.”
For the newest cross country coaches’ poll, click here
It also helps to have fast runners.
The current Knights team features what LeWarne calls a “core group” of seniors that have been together on the team since their freshmen seasons. The bond they’ve formed, and the leadership they display for the younger runners, helps set their team apart.
“It’s such a tight-knit team,” said Ryan Bradford, one of those seniors.
And the bond isn’t just among the boys. It extends to the girls’ team as well. There are several team bonding activities before the season, which leads to a large group of runners who like to be around each other.
“The atmosphere is incredible,” said Jackson Carter, the Homecoming King.
“It’s like a family,” said Heather Pearson, a junior on the girls’ team.
That bond has helped Kamiak become one of the top teams in the state. The boys finished ninth at last year’s state tournament and now that the team has a taste of the state race, LeWarne expects the trend of higher finishes to continue.
“Getting to that constant competitive level is what’s difficult,” he said. “Sustaining that is much easier.”
The team seems to agree with its coach, thinking Kamiak will be able to make another strong run.
“I think it’ll go pretty well,” said senior Tomislav Smith.
The Knights have another local team to look at and see how it’s done. The Jackson boys cross country team has set the bar locally, finishing third at last year’s state tournament and taking second place in 2009 and 2008.
LeWarne said there is a “cross country community” and that runners — and coaches — on other schools are friends, and root for each other to be successful.
Still, it’s always fun to beat a rival.
“We’ve been chasing Jackson for a long time,” LeWarne said. “Sincerely, I’ve been excited about how they run. We know if we’re going to beat Jackson we have to go get them.”
At the South Whidbey Invitational on Sept. 15 Kamiak did just that — sort of. The Kamiak and Jackson boys teams finished in a tie for first place. But, since there are no ties in cross country, tie-breaking measures were enacted.
In a cross country match, the top five runners to finish count toward the team score. The place the runner finishes, earns that number of points for the team (i.e. first place earns one point, 16th place earns 16 points, and so on) and the team whose top five has the lowest combined score wins.
In South Whidbey, both teams finished with a score of 68, which LeWarne said is rare. The tiebreaker in such a case becomes the team’s sixth-place finisher. The faster of the two wins.
Kamiak’s sixth-place runner finished 51st. Jackson’s was 42nd.
“It was really exciting to realize we finally reached that level of being competitive with Jackson,” LeWarne said. “They excelled for a long time. It’s a standard we can compare ourselves to.”
The comparisons were coming from the start of the season. Kamiak was ranked fifth in the state’s 4A cross country preseason poll and got as high as third. The Knights are currently ranked eighth, three spots behind Jackson.
“Guys were excited. We talked about (the preseason poll) right away,” LeWarne said. “We said this is a nice honor, but you haven’t earned anything yet. They handled it really well and with composure. Partly, because they’re seniors.”
“If you’re in the top 10, any one of the teams can beat each other,” Bradford said. “That’s what I like about cross country. Any team can beat any team with a good race.”
While the girls aren’t ranked, LeWarne said he likes what he’s seeing form that team too. That team has dealt with injuries, and had a bit of a wild season. But he believes they’re coming together at just the right time.
“It’s real up and down,”LeWarne said. “In the last week, week and a half, they seemed to have gelled really well and run well in the last few meets we’ve had. To see them coming together at this part of the season is exciting.”
On Oct. 6 they finished 11th at the Richland Invite, which LeWarne said had “50 teams or so.”
“There was some pretty high-quality competition,” LeWarne said. “We didn’t know what to expect. They came in and ran pretty well.”
With their late season push, the girls are hoping to join the boys team at the state tournament.
“For the girls, it’s up in the air. We’ve got to keep getting better,” Pearson said.
“I’d love to get to state meet,” said senior Myesa Fixx. “It’s a good way to end, not just this season, but my cross country career.”
LeWarne, and his team, will look to continue to compare themselves to that standard even after this season, when a good portion of the team will depart.
“It’s going to (stink),” said junior Jerry Behrens. “These guys are going to leave and it’s going to be us. They’re like my older brothers. They’ve been here for three years. We’ll have some big shoes to fill.”
LeWarne said he has younger kids that are excited to take the place of the seniors when they graduate, but admits he will miss the kids. This has been one team he has especially enjoyed coaching.
“All of us want to build on what we’ve got. Maintain and compete at a high level,” said LeWarne. “They’re all special and unique teams. This one’s turned out to be a particularly fun one.”
The Kamiak boys best finish in school history is sixth place at state. LeWarne, who teaches Advanced Placement American History and AP American Government and has pictures of the United States Presidents all over his classroom walls, believes his current team wants to top that.
“They haven’t told me this,” LeWarne said, “but I think they’d like to better that.”