As Mount Si’s Paul Talens and Redmond’s Dereje Himbago rushed toward the finish line, the crowd was ecstatic that the two runners were nearly neck and neck at the end of the thrilling junior cross-country race.
Himbago just inched by Talens — 9:41.20 to 9:41.30 — at the close of the two-mile race at the KingCo Jamboree on Sept. 11 at Lake Sammamish State Park. The epic finish took place in one of the eight races on the day, featuring boys and girls runners from all classes representing 17 KingCo schools.
It was a solid start to the season for all involved as they geared up for the 3.1-mile races to come in regular conference action.
Mount Si head coach Sean Sundwall said the Wildcats are healthy and excited that the season has officially begun. Since Aug. 26, they’ve been training at Centennial Park, Mount Si Golf Course and other local grass spots.
His message to the Wildcats: “Give me your best. You hold me accountable, I’ll hold you accountable and together we’ll get you to whatever your best is.”
Top runners on the boys and girls sides are seniors Austin Gappa, Dora Huestis and Mackenzie Saunders; juniors Lily Colvin, Luke Harper, Tychon Preston and Talens; and sophomores Chloe Hammer, Jack Pratapas, Jack Thorne and Ravenna Vaden.
“It’s definitely an awesome opportunity because it’s an individual sport and a team sport,” said Talens, who began his cross-country training regimen not long after the Wildcat soccer season finished in the spring.
“I started building up a little slowly, like 40 miles-ish a week and then built up to like 60 miles a week by the end of the summer. Now we’re kind of going more into the workout phase of like speed and not so much endurance. It’s definitely race season again,” he said with a smile.
Vaden, who finished seventh in the KingCo Jamboree sophomore race in 12:34.50, said she wants to try and notch a personal record at every meet.
She followed her brother into the sport when she was a sixth-grader, and noted that the best parts of cross country are: “It just feels nice to run a long distance, ‘cause it makes you feel really good, and also (running with) my friends.”
Gappa also took up cross country in the sixth grade and said running came naturally to him.
“I won a few races and found out I liked it and stuck with it,” said Gappa, who took fourth in the KingCo Jamboree senior race in 9:56.50.
He said that perseverance is key to being a successful runner.
“In the workouts, you encounter a lot of pain. You kind of learn that even when you think you’re at your limit, you always have more and can just keep pushing through it,” he said.
Mount Si’s runners have latched on to the work ethic and team spirit that were passed on by Joe Waskom and Spencer Sprague, who left their imprint on the program the last few years. Waskom — who now runs at the University of Washington — snagged Mount Si’s first-ever cross-country state individual championship in 2018. Sprague now competes at George Fox University.
Colvin, who finished eighth in the KingCo Jamboree junior race in 12:51.90, displays a strong work ethic and mental game whenever she steps on the course.
“You gotta stay positive in your head. You can’t get negative, you can’t put yourself down. Don’t think about how much farther you have, just keep going and try and stick with someone. If there’s no one to stick with, just keep your pace,” said the former soccer player who’s glad she came out for cross country.
She added about the sport: “I like after you’re done, when you finish and you know you’ve put everything you could out there.”