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Cross country is all about timing
The Mercer Island High School cross country team will have just one home meet at Island Crest Park this season. But with nearly 150 kids turning out for the team, support will not be hard to find in the opposition’s back yard.
“Having a course advantage is nice, but it shouldn’t matter,” said Islander Tyler Benster. “When you have all those teammates cheering you on, we normally have more ‘fans’ on the course than they do.”
That support structure has been in place for nearly five years, and the Islanders have responded as the girls’ cross country team finished fifth last year. The boys missed the state cut by one position.
The unexpected rise of then freshmen Gabi Goyette and Molly O’Callahan allowed the Islanders to take great strides last season. With more experience and the leadership of such runners as Laura Maruhashi, Allison Ulie, Haley Piper, Phoebe Merritt and Lauren Davis, the Islanders will be a force this season in KingCo and beyond.
“Our success last year really helps to motivate us,” said Merritt. “We know that we have a lot of talented runners and we can get even better.”
Although the great finish to the season was unexpected by some, head coach Erica Hill knew the potential of her team.
“It was a bit frustrating to get fifth because I know how much potential that they have,” said Hill. “We want to race hard in November, not September. We have to peak at the right time.”
A key early season meet in which Newport beat Mercer Island exemplified that timing is everything.
“They demolished us at the beginning of the year, but we beat them at districts,” said Hill. “It’s all about when you peak.”
The Mercer Island girls have a tradition of strong cross country teams, but the athletes know that they must stick together — literally and figuratively.
“I would love to get to state again and see a pretty big pack of Mercer Island girls together so we can place higher,” said Merritt. “We have a lot of spirit, but we have to continue to support each other throughout the season.”
The Mercer Island boys’ team did not reach the state meet last season, but the Islanders are looking to make a big impact this year to make up for it.
“We have a team goal of the top five in state,” said Benster. “That might seem lofty, but we missed state as a team by one runner.”
Benster said the team has a core group of boys nicknamed “the dirty dozen.”
“If we stick together and pack run, we will make it back to state and achieve our goals,” said Benster.
Achieving the goal largely depends on the health of Mercer Island senior John O’Meara. The senior captain will start the season on the sidelines, due to a blood clot behind his knee.
“He is a key piece for us,” said Hill.
The senior has been a leader on the team throughout his career.
“He has been there for every practice so far, encouraging us and helping the younger guys,” said Benster.
As for Benster, he has some unfinished business at state: he qualified for the meet, but an allergic reaction kept him from running.
“It was very disappointing, but this year I want to break the 16- minute barrier and get back to state,” said Benster.
Benster and O’Meara are joined by Quinn Chasan, Evan Sadler and James Kashima as the leaders of the pack for the Islanders.