Inglemoor High’s boys cross country team, from left to right, Brayden Schultz, Curtis Anderson, Cooper Laird, Ray Vernon, Liam Elias, Bryce Lane and Andrew Vernon. Courtesy photo

In a running state of mind: Northshore cross country athletes qualify for premier meet

It’s been 13 years in the making.

Inglemoor High’s boys cross country team qualified for state for the first time since 2004 with a second-place finish at the 4A KingCo championships on Oct. 21 at Lake Sammamish State Park. The state meet will take place Saturday at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

Issaquah took first with 57 points and the Viks tallied 64 points.

Brayden Schultz led Inglemoor with a sixth-place finish in 16 minutes, 08.92 seconds in the 5K race. Other Vik top-10 runners were Ray Vernon in eighth (16:12.71) and Cooper Laird in 10th (16:17.91). Curtis Anderson, Liam Elias, Bryce Lane and Andrew Vernon complete the Vik squad. Connor Lynch and Tyler Neher are alternates.

Schultz, a senior who began running in seventh grade and quit soccer in ninth grade to focus on cross country, enjoys the team aspect of the sport.

“The whole team is really close and we have a really tight family kind of feel,” he said. “I think that’s really motivating, just knowing that when you’re running, there’s six other guys out there that are pushing themselves really hard. You know that you have to push yourself too.”

Sophomore Laird said the squad dedicated itself to running over the summer and the Viks’ effort has translated into success.

“Last year, we were so close to going to state, and that’s all we could think about that day was going to state this year,” he said.

Lane, also a senior, said that in past years, the vibe around the squad come race time had a serious edge. This time out, things were different.

“It was pretty chill and relaxed, and it felt almost better. When you started the race, I wasn’t as stressed out as I’d been past years,” said Lane, adding that when the team qualified for state, “It was amazing, it was one of the best feelings I’ve had in years. It was just so cool to hear us finally make it to state.”

As for the senior Vernon twins, Andrew said that he keeps an eye on his brother’s times and aims to be close to his marks. As the Vik runners laughed in the background about the brotherly competition, Andrew added with a smile, “It’s all for the team, even if we compete against each other, so it works that way.”

Ray Vernon likes the feeling after finishing a first-rate race.

“You know you pushed yourself, and that’s a feeling I never got with basketball that I played in eighth and ninth grade,” he said.

Other Northshore boys runners qualifying for state are North Creek’s Amrit Banga, who snagged ninth in 16:13.33, and Bothell’s Brandon Simmons, who placed 11th in 16:21.05.

Northshore state qualifiers on the girls’ side are Bothell’s Monserrat Lopez, who took sixth in 19:03.73; Inglemoor’s Olivia Wisont, who finished 10th in 19:31.45; and Bothell’s Kerstin Ly, who took 13th in 19:42.40.

It will be the third year at state for Bothell senior Simmons, whose friends guided him away from the football field and onto the cross country course four years ago.

“I just think determination and perseverance and sticking to the training have helped me out,” Simmons said. “Shelby (Schenck) helped me a ton. Without his dedication for coaching me, I obviously wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

Simmons feels he should be able to run a fast time at state and hopefully qualify for the Nike BorderClash, which takes place Nov. 18 in Beaverton, Ore., and features the top Washington and Oregon high school runners.

Bothell freshman Lopez proudly notes that she hasn’t missed a year of running since third grade. She said that running makes her think straight and peels off the stress.

Lopez’s dad inspired her to become a successful runner.

“We always went on runs and I loved running, so I just kept going to try to beat my dad. And then at one point, I noticed that there’s more than just beating my dad. I think there’s more into the running, so I decided to keep going,” she said.

The Cougar smiled when she said she finishes ahead of her dad during runs, and “He’s training to not get beat again.”

Lopez has notched stellar times by staying focused the entire race, thinking positive and trusting herself and her instincts.

Ly qualified for state last year for Liberty High and transferred to Bothell for her sophomore year. The runner feels her mental preparation and hard work took her to state again.

“I was just like, ‘I have to be brave, I can’t be afraid,’ I can’t let those negative thoughts get in my mind, ‘cause you’ll just tank in the race,” she said, noting that coach Brian Nienaber yelled to her that she was going to state about 400 meters from the finish line. “I was like, ‘Ahhh, I can’t believe this is happening, I’m gonna go, I actually can do this.’ It was a dream all throughout the season, ‘cause I was ranked slower than all these girls.”

For North Creek junior Banga, he put in some solid miles over the summer with his Jaguar teammates and former Bothell High classmates. Banga feels that their treks around the high schools and on the Burke-Gilman and Tolt Pipeline trails put him in a good spot heading into the KingCo season — and now on the state scene.

“I think it’s going pretty well. It’s all worked out,” said Banga, who’s in the midst of his first cross country season since he sustained a knee injury that kept him off the course until now. “Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping I wouldn’t be too bad.”

Banga laughed after making the latter comment and noted that he started off the season with a 17:21, kept plugging away and improved his marks each time out. His KingCo championship meet time is a top-notch one, he said.

During that race, he said he ran smoothly and pain-free during the first two miles, fell back a bit from the frontrunners during the start of the last mile and finished strong.

“You start to feel your legs (burning) and you just have to push through it,” he said.

Like his fellow Northshore runners, Banga is gunning to qualify for the BorderClash. At state, he wants to start out strong and hold his competitors off along the way.

He aims to keep focused before the meet and not get too anxious about what awaits on the course.

On the 1A side, Cedar Park Christian’s Grant Gorc qualified for state. He finished in 18:01 at district (22nd) and his personal best this season is 17:33.

More from the course

According to Inglemoor coach Kelly Richards, Wisont is an “extremely hard worker – wants to learn everything she can about the sport.”

The speedy Vik and former soccer player finished second in KingCo track in the 400 meters last year. She twisted her ankle and didn’t finish the 2016 KingCo cross country championship meet, but she’s rebounded to make state this year.

Cedar Park coach Andy Gist said that he can count on Gorc, who recovered from a knee injury last year, to run his best when it counts.

“Runners like Grant are few and far between. I’m pumped and proud of him making it to state for the first time. It is going to be fun watching Grant race at state,” Gist said.

Bothell’s Monserrat Lopez, Brandon Simmons and Kerstin Ly run around the Bothell High track. Andy Nystrom/Bothell-Kenmore Reporter

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