Jackson High School has seen many talented runners pass through its cross country program but never a brother-sister combination like Joseph and Anna Skoog.
“I’ve seen other programs have them but we’ve never had it,” said Timberwolves coach Eric Hruschka, who’s coached the team since the school’s opening in 1994. “So it’s really special and really just fun.”
Joseph, a senior, and Anna, a junior, are the top returning runners for Jackson’s boys and girls squads, which placed ninth and 14th, respectively, at the 2017 Class 4A state meet.
Hruschka said he’s noticed the two have a knack for thriving when the other succeeds and falling when the other stumbles.
“They honestly care about each other so much that when one of them does great, it actually helps the other person, and when one of them bombs, it kind of hurts the other one,”Hruschka said. “They both care about how the other person is doing, and they’re so supportive of each other to do well.”
The two feeding off each other’s success was evident in a couple of meets during the 2017 season. Anna and Joseph each finished in first place at the Mukilteo-Everett Clash, and at a four-team meet at Snohomish High School.
“It boosts my pride,” Joseph said. “I don’t know, it’s fun seeing her win with me. It’s always fun being able to support someone who just won. … We just are happy for each other when we each succeed.”
“It’s always fun to cheer Joseph on when I’ve been running before,” Anna said.
With the success both have had in cross country, it would suggest the sport runs in the family, but Joseph was the first of his kin to take up distance running when he joined the team his freshman year. Anna also didn’t start running cross country until her freshman year. Hruschka taught physical education to both as eighth graders and encouraged them to join the team.
Joseph had run only the mile in P.E. up to that point, but joining the team wasn’t a tough choice for the older Skoog.
“I came out for the team and ran a bunch, and I like it a lot,” Joseph said. “It was a big change, but I loved it.”
Getting Anna to come out for the team the following year wasn’t quite as easy.
“She was like, ‘No way! I’m not doing cross country,’” Hruschka said of first approaching Anna to join the team.
Hruschka wasn’t the only one who wanted her to give running a try.
“I really wanted her to join, but she was like, ‘I’m not sure I want to do that,’” Joseph said.
Eventually she warmed up to the idea, joining the squad for some runs over the summer and bonding with her soon-to-be teammates before deciding to join.
She said it also helped to see how much her brother enjoyed it.
And there was never a doubt as to their commitment once they joined.
“Their personality, both of them, (is) really a credit to their folks,” Hruschka said. “They’re just all in. Once they’re in, they’re all in.”
As the two enter their final year together at Jackson, they’re at different points in their careers but on similar paths.
Hruschka said Joseph is probably one of the most highly recruited athletes he’s had, receiving interest from Pac-12, SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, after really putting things together his sophomore year and a breakout junior campaign. He claimed first place at the Wesco Cross Country Championships in 2017.
“He probably overdid it a little bit as a freshman, but just totally went for it and made huge progress all the way (from) Day 1 to the end of his freshman year,” Hruschka said. “… He just kept his foot on the gas and became one of the best sophomores we’ve had. He’s gotten better every year and going into his senior year he’s just trying to finish it out strong.”
It also probably helped that he figured out he had been running in shoes a half size too small for a year and a half.
Anna had success as a freshman but really saw things click as a sophomore, winning two races throughout the season and finishing ninth at the 4A state meet.
“I think if Anna has a junior year similar to her brothers, she’s probably gonna get some really cool opportunities, too,” Hruschka said.
Regardless of how the two fare this season, next year will feel a little odd for the younger Skoog.
“I think it will be really weird mainly because of him, but also because we have such a huge senior class,” Anna said. “Like half the team is gonna leave and it’s gonna be really sad.”