SNOHOMISH — It’s hard to find a high school sports program with a richer tradition than Glacier Peak’s girls cross country team.
Since the school opened in 2008, the Grizzlies have won five state titles, posted runner-up finishes two times and won eight league titles, establishing the squad as a powerhouse in just over a decade.
“It gives you kind of like a positive pressure because then you know what you’re capable of,” senior Alexis Palmer said of the program’s history. “… It’s definitely kind of cool. It’s a good pressure because you want to live up to that standard.”
Palmer and her teammates certainly lived up to that standard last season when the Grizzlies — only one year removed from missing the state meet for the first time — finished 26 points ahead of Lewis and Clark to earn their first state title since moving up to Class 4A in 2016.
“It was such an amazing day,” senior Aviry Stratton said. “The best day ever, probably, because we were kind of coming in as underdogs, I would say. Our goal was to win, but we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to make it happen. We just went in with a positive attitude and just gave it our all and left our hearts on the race course.”
Glacier Peak’s state-title winning performance was a model of consistency. The Grizzlies didn’t have a top-five finisher leading the way. It was a group effort that saw four Glacier Peak runners place between 14th and 25th, a result that held true to the pack-mentality Grizzlies coach Dan Parker brought to the program from his time at Snohomish High School.
Parker said the goal is for runners to be close enough to each other that they can reach out and touch their teammate.
“If you do that and run towards the front, you’re going to win,” Parker said.
After spending many successful years at Snohomish, Parker joined Glacier Peak when the school opened. He said he wanted a fresh start and to see if the new program could “make the magic happen again.” It seems to be happening and Parker credits the athletes.
“These girls, they do the work. The guys, they do the work. They don’t question it,” he said. “The program is pretty established. What we do seems to work and, yeah, we’ve had some good success. It (comes) down to the kids. They accept the workload. They accept the sacrifices that you have to make in order to do it.”
Parker said some of the sacrifices the girls have made include 5:45 a.m. training sessions in the pool at the Snohomish Aquatic Center.
The Grizzlies return a strong core from last year’s state team. Four seniors who participated at state last season — Stratton, Palmer, Lindsay Ardry and Madeline Watkins — all return.
Stratton is the Grizzlies’ top returner from last season’s state meet. She placed 19th in a time of 19 minutes, 16.4 seconds. Ardry, who ran cross country for the first time last year, was just a half a second behind in 20th.
“I honestly met a group of people that are unlike anyone I’ve ever met,” Ardry said of joining the team last year. “The passion and dedication and positivity that we bring to practice is just amazing, and I think it’s really cool that we all go out there and want to improve. We don’t want things to be easy and we have that determination, and I think that’s what makes us different.”
Palmer, who was fighting a case of mononucleosis at last season’s state meet, placed 61st and Watkins 89th.
For Glacier Peak to repeat the success it enjoyed last year, the team is going to need a few new faces rise to the occasion and replace the three seniors who competed at state last season and delivered two of the Grizzlies’ five best times.
Parker said he’s already seen some runners step up early this season, including senior Annie Ardry and sophomore Riley Young.
If Glacier Peak can put it all together again and make a successful run at a second straight state title, it would be the program’s sixth in 10 years and a special send-off for the upperclassmen who helped deliver a championship last season.
“It would be absolutely amazing, especially senior year,” Stratton said. “It would just be like a dream come true.”