The cross country course at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island is beautiful on a fall afternoon, with the trail looping through the trees alongside Lake Washington. For the runners competing, the course was anything but beautiful, especially with four teams on the narrow course.
“It’s a very challenging course,” Mercer Island cross country head coach Susan Empey said. “I always tell the kids that it is the most beautiful course in the league, but beautiful often is associated with being really challenging.”
Mercer Island cross country welcomed Interlake, Bellevue and Liberty to its difficult home course for a quad-team meet on Oct. 2. Before the meet, the Islanders honored their seniors as part of senior night before their last home race. Empey said the seniors were probably happy to be done competing at Luther Burbank Park.
“It’s our home course, but I think most seniors, when they get to this point, are glad that this was their last race on this course,” Empey said. “It is not easy.”
While the course is difficult, Empey said every team is dealing with the same challenges. Along with the course, there was plenty of tough competition racing against the Islanders.
“Anytime you run against Interlake, because they’re the best team in the league, it’s always fun to see how we stack up next to them,” Empey said. “And Bellevue is a rival of ours, so running against both teams makes it special. Liberty is also a really fun team to run against.”
The Interlake Saints won both the boys (17-50) and girls team (40-63) competition. The Mercer Island boys finished second behind the Saints and the girls finished third behind Interlake and Bellevue. With both teams losing to Interlake by wide margins, Empey said she was hoping they would have given the Saints more of a challenge.
“In a way, it’s nice to have been beaten so badly by Interlake this early in the season,” Empey said. “It will hopefully motivate and inspire them to work really hard over the next three weeks before the postseason. That’s what really matters. I think it’s a really good wake-up call.”
While the team result wasn’t what she was hoping for, Empey said their top two runners, junior Connor Pettigrew and senior Alli Hixson, ran good races.
“Alli and Connor are not scared to go out hard and hang on tight,” Empey said. “I respect people who can go out and just be aggressive and run tough. I respect how they both approached the race. I think sometimes, people get intimidated by the competition.”
Hixson finished third in the girls race with a time of 21:09.9. Empey said she admired how Hixson ran the race against tough competition. Bellevue’s Katherine Forsberg won the girls race with a time of 18:56.2.
“Alli Hixson is tough as nails and does not give up,” Empey said. “I respect the way Alli approaches these races.”
Pettigrew finished seventh in the boys race with a time of 17:23.3. Empey said Pettigrew wasn’t scared to be aggressive going up against Interlake. She said the only way to get better is to push yourself.
The Islanders will have plenty of time to improve before the KingCo Championship Meet at Lake Sammamish State Park on Oct. 24.