Thursday, May 23, 2024

Kodiak Cross Country Team off to a historic start


The exceptional heat of last summer’s evenings in Leavenworth never deterred Cascade High School senior Brayden Anderson from lacing up his running shoes and heading to the irrigation canal trail, often with teammate junior Ben Jerome, to pound out the miles. Anderson had a goal of crossing finish lines this fall, in the standard high school cross country distance of 5k, in under 17 minutes – a big goal for a runner relatively new to the sport, whose average last season was in the mid-18-minute range and who only once finished above fifth on the team.

The 2023 season began promisingly for Anderson, though, as the Kodiaks traveled to Ellensburg on September 9th for their traditional first meet. It is a crowded, quirky relay race that features a 50-yard jaunt through Carey Lake. While the race’s emphasis is pointedly on fun and team building, Ellensburg High School does provide individual splits for the 1.5-mile legs. Anderson’s time was two seconds faster than the CHS mark set by lauded runner Landon Davies. “For sure, I was happy with my time and how the team did,” recalls Anderson, “but was it just a one-off or did it mean that I was actually getting quicker?”

That race did turn out to be a harbinger of things to come. The following week at Walla Walla Point Park at the Wenatchee Invitational, Brayden placed fourth in a highly competitive field, with a time of 16:08, almost a minute faster than he hoped to run this year, over two minutes faster than his personal record last year, and a new Kodiak record, surpassing the likes of, among others, CHS stars Davies and Torin Koos, a four-time Olympian. Moreover, Anderson’s time sets the mark as the fastest run this year in Washington’s Class 1A schools, making him the number one ranked boy in the state and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Athlete of the Week. “All of that is great, of course, and I appreciate the recognition,” remarked Anderson. “Right now, though, I’m focused on trying to go sub 16 [minutes over the 5k distance] and trying to win state. There is a lot more racing before then, though. So, I’ll continue to work hard, see how things go, and hope for the best for all of us on the team.”

“Brayden worked very hard over the summer, running a whole lot of miles,” explained CHS Head Coach Dayle Massey, who continued: “Obviously, he has a lot of ability, but without his work ethic, I don’t think he’d have realized all he’s achieved – coming from our number five runner last year to be our number one now, setting school records and being best in the state.”

Anderson is not alone in making Kodiak history this season. The girls’ varsity team, comprised of seniors Paige Nunally and Isabel Menna, juniors Caroline Menna, Alice Farrell, Grace McDevitt, and Harper Baker, and sophomore Gwen Pehowski, are ranked second in the state. “So far this season, they’re the most successful girls’ team in our history,” stated Massey, who is in his 25th year at CHS as a math and science teacher and 14th as the cross-country coach. “Almost everyone is returning from last year, making for an experienced group who knows the value of hard work. It’s also the largest girls’ team we’ve ever had.”

Massey went on to explicate that “especially at the high school age, getting as many kids out there as we can and enthused, in my experience, is the best way to produce a good team. Building the culture is key; there are no magic workouts. It takes hard work to run well, as we’ve seen, and that work is much more fun if done with a big group. We’re also lucky to have good captains [Anderson, Blue Knutson, and Isabel Menna] who help to encourage and motivate.”

While not yet breaking records, the boys’ team, as a whole, is also off to a strong start, currently ranked 10th in the state, with notable improvement by Anderson’s summer training partner Ben Jerome, who himself already dropped two minutes from his best time last year and is vying for the second spot of the varsity team that also includes seniors Jasper Bard and Blue Knutson, junior Cruz Martinez, sophomore Miles Porter, and freshman Grant Burrill.

The Kodiaks next travel twice in two weeks to the west side of the Cascades to attend Washington State’s two premier races: the Nike-sponsored “Twilight XC” and “Hole in the Wall” invitationals, before hosting their own race at Leavenworth’s Ski Hill on Oct. 14.



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