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Big numbers bolster young squad
The Mount Si High School cross country program is enjoying some strong growth this year and the future appears rosy for this squad.
Art Galloway and Christine Kjenner return to coach the program this season; Galloway in his 20th year and Kjenner in her fifth year coaching the team. Galloway likes the record turnout numbers he's seeing, especially among the freshmen and sophomores.
"We have a larger number of new ninth and 10th graders coming out, which is really great for the program ... it's showing that it's really valuable to have a middle-school cross country program. We have kids now that have been already running cross country for three years and they're coming in as freshmen, so they have that experience," Galloway said.
Both the boys and girls finished among the lower half of teams at last season's Kingco Conference meet, but with some strong returning athletes and a large crop of new ones, look for improvement on those numbers this season. Leading the returnees on the boys' side is junior Drake da Ponte, who expects big things from his team this season.
"I think if we push it really hard this year, we might be able to make it to districts with our varsity team," da Ponte said.
Other key returnees on the boys' side include senior Kyle Stanton-Wyman and juniors Ben Joselyn and Owen Strom. One notable freshman newcomer to the boys' program is Brett Duncan. On the girls' side there are several top returning runners, led by junior Katie Hogan. Senior Aliesha Davis will help provide experience and leadership for a strong core of younger newcomers, including freshman Alex Rudd, who has a lot of experience.
"I first started cross country in middle school and I had run long distance in track for a couple years before that, and I also run on the Issaquah Gliders team," Rudd said. Rudd ran middle-school cross country in Snoqualmie Middle School's program. That experience should help the freshman.
"I know how the meets work and so I don't have to be nervous about that and also I'm used to practicing a lot, so it won't be like a shock," Rudd said.
There are many teams to keep an eye on. One stands out in da Ponte's eyes. "Definitely Skyline," he said, adding that the Spartans boys are led this season by Matt Frecker, who da Ponte sees as potentially the top boys' runner in the entire league. Galloway also thinks that Newport, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Issaquah could contend on both the boys' and girls' sides this season, just for sheer numbers alone; the coach told the Valley Record that all of those programs boast turnouts this season of 100 kids or more. He also indicated that improved programs at Interlake and Liberty could give the Wildcats a challenge this season.
The competition may be difficult, to be sure, but one thing Galloway focuses on is individual improvement.
"Really, what we try to do is individualize the goals for the kids and I get as excited about the new runner that comes out that can't run three miles because they're just not in good enough shape ... to see them get in good enough shape to then finish the first race ... as I would be for Drake to be in the top 10 in the league and do well at district. I'm excited about that because what I've seen is kids reach their goals. It's not about me, it's about the kids. I help them to learn to set a goal and work hard to reach that goal," Galloway said.
Rudd has her own goal in mind. "I'm hoping to run 21 minutes by the end of the season," she said.
The growing process will be tough. "We still have a long way to go in that, but I do see that we're moving in the right direction in terms of kids having the discipline to turn out for this sport," Galloway said.