Seattle Times staff reporter

CHRIS JOSEPH TAYLOR / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Senior Cassidy Robey, left clockwise, junior Cammy Patrick and junior Vanessa Bennum are currently the top runners for Thomas Jefferson High School. Paul Ruston, head coach for the Raiders, said all three are very motivated to do their best this year.

AUBURN - They generally run only seconds apart on any given cross-country course.

Close friends who like to close any gap between them when competing for Thomas Jefferson High School, and competing against one another as well.

Cassidy Robey, Vanessa Bennum and Cammy Patrick take a team-first approach to their sport. They want each other to do well, because that generally means the Raiders from Federal Way will do well, but they also each want to win.

Bennum and Patrick, both juniors, are especially competitive with one another.

Vanessa is my biggest competitor in everything we do, Patrick said. We always are supercompetitive with each other, but we're also so close that if I beat her or she beats me, it's always, 'Good job.' We don't hold anything against each other, ever.

In fact, one will feel sorry for the other if both have not run their best.

If one of us has a bad race, it's not like, 'Ha, ha, I beat you!' Bennum said. It's like, 'I'm sad. I wanted you to do good.'

Robey, a senior, admits she, too, is competitive with her two friends/teammates.

I'm not as open about it, but it's definitely there, she said.

The oldest of the three, Robey tends to be more reserved. Bennum and Patrick get the giggles easily, and Robey, the team captain, often finds herself shushing the two.

She keeps us in line, Patrick said.

At 5 feet 10, Robey towers over the other two. Patrick says she's 5-2, then admits that would be on a good day, while Bennum admits to 5 feet.

Cammy and Vanessa are so small, they could pass for seventh- or eighth-graders, coach Paul Ruston said. Cassidy, being the older one, kind of looks over them.

Last year they all looked up to Kenna Patrick, Cammy's sister, who won the Class 4A state cross-country title and led the Raiders to a second-place finish in the team standings. Kenna Patrick now is running for the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

The returning trio placed in the top 35 at state last season (Bennum was 16th, Robey 27th and Patrick 33rd). They have high hopes for their team this year after Jefferson finished fourth in 2004, third in '05 and second in '06.

We want to finish going up the ladder, Patrick said. It just makes sense to go for first.

As a senior, Robey can think of nothing better.

It would be a good way to leave, she said.

But none will feel badly if they fall short of their goal, as long as they feel they ran well.

As long as we try our best, we'll be OK with what we do, Robey said.

As a team, as individuals and as friends.