Warm & mostly sunny days belie the fact that another cross country season is nearly upon us. This week Alaskan runners have their first invitational so some sort of a preview would appear to be in order. As Alaska will lead the way it seems only proper to start a preview with them. For years what happened in Alaska went well below the northwest radar, much less the national radar. Recall that it was only two years ago that the West Valley (Fairbanks) girls ventured into Oregon to contest the Adidas Invitational & stunned ranked teams with a solid victory, yet even then the self-anointed committee that ran the rankings disregarded the meet & ranked one of the local teams WV defeated ahead of them. It took a concerted effort on the sidelines to give them the credit that they deserved but now they have been to the Nike Team Nationals & represented themselves well.

West Valley has a strong team returning & they are once again led by Crystal Pitney, who won the State championship in 2005 & was 5th at State last year. Pitney was 2nd in the state as a frosh & last year placed 10th at Mt. SAC & 27th at the Foot Locker West Regional last year. She is followed closely by team mate Kayla Teslow, who was 15th at the Danner Meet & 7th at State. As good as they are Leah Francis of Juneau-Douglas was even better last year. Francis won the Lynx meet in Alaska as well as the State championship & also won Oregon's Adidas Invitational. Soshanana Keegan of West Anchorage has placed second at State all three of her years & also was 7th at the Adidas Meet. The Alaskan guys will see Kodiak's Trevor Dunbar as the one to beat: he is the defending State champion. He was only 16th at the Jim Danner Invitational but placed 22nd at the Footlocker West Regional. Others of the Alaskan boys to watch are Aaron Fletcher of South, like Dunbar only a junior this year, who placed 2nd at State & David Norris of Lathrop, who was 9th at State.

For Oregon the field for the girls' individual race should be wide open after the graduation of perennial leaders Casey Masterson, Jennifer Macias, Claire Michel, Ilsa Paulson, Haley Belli & Marsha Lampi. There are indeed also a fair number of questions to be answered. Alyssa O' Connor of Summit was one of the leading runners in the state until a severe injury cut short her season at the Adidas meet. Earlier in the season he won the Saxon Invitational & was 4th at both Puma & Danner before being injured. She says that she is running & swimming & did well in therapy & we hope she will be back to full strength. If she is healthy she will be one of the favorites. Michelle Dettman of Centennial was also a leader last year but had problems at State & was forced to drop out of the race. Still she had a stellar track campaign & should be another to fear at full strength. Another question mark is Taylor Wallace of Henley, who did not even run XC last year. Her track season showed that she is the best in distance runner in both Oregon & Washington. If she runs XC she will be our favorite & we'd expect her to qualify for Footlocker.

Jesuit lost some of their stars but return a strong team that had many capable reserves last year. Noelle Vanrysselberg (5th Adidas, 25th Stanford, 18th Border Clash & 4th at State) & Adrienne McGuirk (14th Stanford, 22nd Border Clash & 5th State) lead a deep team which should be one of the best in the region. Shelby Brennan of Aloha should also be a factor. When on she is one of the best in the state & she was 5th at Bellarmine, 8th at Adidas & 6th at State. Khalia Tidwell of Gresham had a big day at State last year placing third & she backed it up with a solid track season, so she is another to watch. St. Mary's, led by Alexa Kearns (8th New Balance, 24th Stanford & 15th at State), should have a fine team. Other individuals to watch are Maren Westby of West Salem, who was 2nd in the Saxon & 7th at State, Taylor Nowlin of West Linn (13th New Balance & 9th at State), Shoni Schimmel of Hermiston (14th Northwest Classic & 4th at State 5A), Ashley Baldovina of Lakeview (1st at State 3A), Aria Hemphill of Ashland (11th Northwest Classic & 10th at State 5A), Sarah Boyd of Newberg (1st Wilsonville, 1st PAC District & 14th at State), Emily Wheeler of Tualatin (12th New Balance) & Sami Parr of Putnam (2nd Wilsonville).

The Oregon guys should be a quality group this year with almost everyone returning except for Sean Coleman of Canby. It is a hard group to figure in some ways as there is so much depth. Taylor Morgan is the man to beat as he is the returning State Champion. The senior from Central Catholic is the 5th straight individual winner (following Galen Rupp & Kenny Klotz, who both won two State titles). He was also 1st at Wilsonville as well as Adidas & 19th at Danner. He possesses a strong finishing kick & will always be a threat when he remains close to the lead. That said Jesuit has Brian Manning, who was 4th at Adidas & 5th at State. He is more than capable of a state title. This should not suggest that the race

is expected to be between just these two as there is a wealth of talent, which on any given day could claim a title. Bryce Burgess of Franklin is one of the threats as his 3rd at State last year attests. He was also 4th at Adidas, 1st in the PIL District, 10th at Danner & 24th in the Foot Locker Regional. Nathan Mathabane of Lincoln leads a team that could be a power again, if it replaces some key graduates. Individually he should be a force as well. He was 10th at New Balance, 2nd in the PIL & 15th at State. Jesuit also boasts Peter Maag (9th at State) while Central Catholic can claim yet another front-runner in Samot Turina (4th at State & 2nd at Wilsonville plus 7th at Adidas). Other runners of note are Elliott Jantzer of Phoenix (3rd at Danner in the smaller-school division & 3rd at Yreka), Tim Costin of Springfield (2nd at Saxon), Ryan Santana of Crater (4th Yreka), Grant Eldgredge of Clackamas (3rd at Saxon). Then there is Lake Oswego's Elija Greer, who had such an impressive track campaign. This list is hardly inclusive as even Jesuit & Central Catholic alone have more who could possibly contend. It should be enjoyable to see the season unfold. Once again the team battle should be between Jesuit & CC but Lincoln could be a power again while South Eugene has most everyone back - save their lead runner. It might be a bit much to expect them to be able to challenge for the title but they should be a strong team.

The tale of the Washington guys may be the opposite of that of Oregon. While Mead & Ferris have been national powers they lost most of their top runners. It is hard to count them out as they have such solid programs but they will both be rebuilding. Ferris must replace its top six runners, while Mead lost 5 quality runners including State champion Cameron Quackenbush. Mead, however, does have its lead runner returning in the person of Kelly Lynch, who was 7th at State & placed 9th at Nike Team Nationals.

Last year the individual talent in Washington was awesome but gone are Footlocker qualifiers Max O'Donoghue-McDonald of Seattle Prep & Jake Riley of Sehome as well as Michael Chinchar, Matt Frerker & Dak Riek. Still Washington has some quality returnees with Joey Bywater of Lake Stevens probably the best. Bywater placed 2nd at State & was 12th at the Foot Locker Regional. Ryan Prentice of Mt. Ranier is also a strong runner as evidenced by his 3rd in the State 3A & 20th at the Foot Locker Regional. Yoaton Yilma of Edmonds-Woodway is another to watch after placing 11th at State, 3rd at South Whidbey, 2nd at Hoquiem & 45th in the Foot Locker Regional. Others to watch include Mason McHenry of Sehome (4th State 2A), Steve Hicks of Central (10th State 3A & 46th Fl), Jonathan Lefler of Tahoma (16th State), Simon Sorenson of Skyline ( 6th New Balance, 2nd Hoquiem & 24th State 3A), Andy Kinpel (North Central (5th State 5A) & Rich Webster ( of Tacoma (10th State 3A & 46th at FL). The team race should also be fairly wide-open with Central Valley also having numerous graduation holes to fill but Lake Stevens should be a force as they not only return Bywater but Kyle Van Santen (14th at State), Scott Larsen & Josiah Cheslik).

Washington has a number of potential Foot Locker finalists, who should make the State race quite interesting. Although State champions Kenna Patrick & Stephanie Marcy (9th & alternate at Foot Locker West as well as the Border Clash champion) have departed, there are a number of very strong girls who should have more than a fair shot at a trip to San Diego. Nichole Cochran of Bellarmine is probably the favorite. She won the New Balance, Bellarmine, Puma & South Whidbey titles as well as placing 3rd at State & in the Border Clash. This should be her year & she will be aided by team mate Kayla Evans who was 3rd at Northwest, 3rd at Bellarmine, 3rd at Puma & 4th at State. Brownyn Crossman of Squalicum is another very talented runner. She was impressive in taking the New Balance title, was 3rd at Danner, 5th at the Border Clash & 1st at State 3A. Annie Moore from Sehome is a runner with a good deal of grit & should contend. She was 2nd at New Balance, 2nd at Bellarmine, 14th in the Border Clash & 3rd at State 3A. Andrea Nelson of Shadle Valley was only a freshman yet she earned 2nd at State & also added 42nd at Foot Locker. Other runners to watch are Sophie Curl of Squalicum (4th New Balance), Ellie Bonner of Snohomish (20th Danner, 6th Bellarmine, 9th S. Whidbey), Stephanie Schuel of West Valley (1st Fort Steilacoom, 3rd Richland), Lisa Olander also of West Valley (Yakima) who was 2nd at Richland & 2nd at State 4A. Chelsea Orr of Eastlake (11th Stae) & Devin McMahon of Redmond (6th State) were both ninth graders last year who were impressive.

The Gig Harbor girls should have been to all three Nike Team Nationals but they have proved that they belong. Recall that last year they were forced to run in the open race yet their average time would have placed them 5th in the championship. The team will be strong once again & they have some quality front-runners in Anna Kalbrenner (3rd at Salt Creek & 10th State) & Christy Sipes (7th Salt Creek). Returning are Jenny Collen, Rachel Seibert & Amanda Breger and in spite of losing Kesslee Payne & Amanda Andrews they have strong replacements in Alyssa Andrews (1st at Clear Lake this summer), Erin Hull Rachel Gecho & Cara Saxon. They should be the best in the state & Bellarmine should be tough as well. Squalicum is another team that could qualify at NTN as they not only have Brownyn Crossman but return Gylany Crossman (28th State), Tia Herdman (41st State) & Amy Pomante. Their key loss was their 2nd runner Emily Schick. If 3A Squalicum is tough then 2A Sehome is no slouch either, Not only do they return their leader Annie Moore but they return their 2nd & 3rd runners Lauren Bruce (29th State) & Hannah Mackenzie (30th State). Also back are Gabby Vigh & Molly LeCompte. Other teams that should be strong but need to replace some key people are West Valley & Mt. Spokane. Jefferson lost their top runner but have five returning while always powerful Snohomish lost Kara Sporrong but returns not only Bonner but Sahar Bala (48th State), Madison Sheppley (57th State), Maria Vjifusa (94th) & Kristi Fairbanks. Riverside is yet another team of promise. They are led by Amanda Wilson, who placed 10th at State, and they return six of last year's top seven runners graduating only their 4th runner. Mt. Spokane lost Jessica Klier but returns Courtney Zalud (14th at State) as well as Stephanie Inouye (42nd State) & Becca Craig (52nd).

Utah has had numerous Foot Locker finalists over the years, despite its size, but has had a dry spell of late. The contingent of girls this year might be expected to have at least one qualifier. Although they lost Kim Quinn the state boasts great quality with Candace Eddy leading the way. The junior from Davis won the Firman Invitational as well as the Orem meet. She also placed 2nd at BYU & State & finished with a 22nd place finish at the Foot Locker Regional. Her team mate Natialie Haws is usually close behind & boasts a 2nd at Orem, 4th at Firman, 2nd at the Murray Invitational & 5th at BYU. She was also 7th at State & 33rd at FL. Hailey Knettles of Judge Memorial is another fine runner & boasts a 2nd at Firman. Other prominent stars should be Macinze O'very of Mountain Crest (1st State 4A, 8th at Murray & 10th BYU), Shayla Kipp of Skyline (5th State 5A), Krystal Harper (3rd Murray, 13th BYU, 54 Foot Locker), Sarah Callister of Ogden (36th Foot Locker), Sarah Yingling of Mountain View (7th BYU & 3rd at State), Kacee Hildebrandt of Lone Peak (9th BYU, 3rd State 5A & 39th Foot Locker) & Lindsay Baker of Judge Memorial (3rd BYU). Davis & Judge Memorial have a number of quality returnees & should be powerful again this year.

The top male runner from Utah is projected to be Luke Puskedra of Judge Memorial. He pressed Idaho's standout Taylor Farnsworth at the Firman Invitational and was 2nd at BYU while adding first place finishes at Murray & Orem. Stephen Clark of Skyline (3rd Murray & 4th BYU) should also be a factor as well as Spencer Gardiner of Springville (2nd at State 4A & 27th at Foot Locker Regional).

Idaho standout Taylor Farnsworth, who qualified for Foot Locker Nationals, is gone along with Nick Bolinder, Sean Huey & Sawyer Bosch plus Karleigh Gempler of Borah on the girl's side. Still the state has some quality runners. The Boise girls lost only their third runner & are led by Sarah Olson (1st Tiger Grizz, 28th Firman & 5th State) & Anne Lovelace (2nd Tiger Grizz, 24th Firman & 8th State. They should be one of the top teams in the Northwest. Borah lost Gempler but returns everyone else including Nicole Neilson. Others of note are Betha McInturff of Pocatello (40th Foot Locker) & Jordan Engelhardt of perennial power Bishop Kelly (12th Firman). The top runner returning for the boys was only a freshman last year but Eric FitzPatrick of Boise placed 7th at State & was also 7th at the Driscoll Invite.

It should be another great year for distance running in the Pacific Northwest. It almost makes one wish that summer was over, so the pilgrimage to Foot Locker Nationals can begin in earnest. Well, almost but I enjoy summer too. Athlete Photos