Coug runners improve

While the Lakewood boys cross country team is a known quantity — they’ve been qualifying for state as a team year after year — coach Jeff Sowards said at the beginning of the season the girls would surprise people.

Anyone who is still surprised now just isn’t paying attention, though. After placing fourth at the Stanford Invitational the week before, the Lakewood girls finished in third place at the Mount Baker Invitational Oct. 4 and entered the top 10 of the state cross country coaches poll. They’re ranked seventh this week among 2A schools. All Lakewood’s top five or six girls have enjoyed huge improvements this season over their previous season records, with average improvements on the order of 40-60 seconds on their 5k times.

Two sophomores have shown some of the biggest improvement. Chelsea Stokes, who has been running roughly second for the team is clocking times in the neighborhood of 20:15 for the usual 3.1 mile course, two minutes faster than her time this week a year earlier. The same is true for Tasha Bartol, whose season best of 20:53 at Stanford is an improvement of more than two minutes over the 23:06 time she ran at last year’s Tomahawk Twilight Meet.

“The girls were really tough and their third-place showing definitely demonstrated that,” Sowards said.

The boys had their own highlights at Mount Baker, defeating third-ranked Squalicum to place fourth overall.

The best news for Lakewood fans is that Sowards said he thinks the team’s best running is still ahead of them.

“We were tired from traveling back from California and a tough week of training,” he said. “We probably could have run faster if we had focused on the meet more.”

The team will surely be more energized as they play host to about 40 different schools at the Hole In The Wall Invite Oct. 11. Sowards said he is expecting about 1,300 to 1,500 athletes to compete on the course that will also host the Wesco and Cascade conference championships at the end of this season.

And who knows whether dancing will break out at the stadium like it has the past two years?

“I can’t say for sure that they’ll spontaneously do that again this year, but it’s a lot of fun,” Sowards said.

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