On the 3.1-mile course that was smooth in most parts, muddy in others and saw the athletes tackle the waterside sand during one segment, Lake Washington and Juanita boys and girls cross-country teams garnered six combined top-10 finishers at the 2A/3A KingCo championship meet on Oct. 24 at Lake Sammamish State Park.
Lake Washington’s boys took second and the Kang girls placed third to qualify for the 3A Sea-King district meet on Nov. 2 at Lake Sammamish.
Top individual finishers for the Kangs were Belle Brandenfels (second in 19:00.25) and Colton Bailey (fourth in 16:46.68). Leading the way for Juanita was Felicity Strzelec (third in 19:47.46), who qualified for districts with teammates Declan West and Casey Stowe.
“As soon as the gun goes off, I try to get a good place in the front or at least a good start. Then, I’m just thinking about trying not to focus on how tired I am — anything else but that,” said Brandenfels, a senior whose personal record is 18:36.6.
Brandenfels, who began running in the sixth grade, will strive to break 18:30 and qualify for state on Nov. 2. She credits her teammates for driving her to succeed, and the Kangs all celebrated equally after the KingCo awards were distributed.
“I really enjoy just the team aspect. A lot of people don’t think it’s a team sport ‘cause you’re just running alone, but my team plays a huge part in everything I do and we all just try to motivate each other, help each other out,” Brandenfels said.
“When it gets really hard out there, you just have to know that’s gonna end soon,” she added with a smile about gutting it out and finishing the race.
On the girls’ side, Brandenfels made the all-league first team along with teammate Ankita Kumar and Strzelec, and LW’s Chloe Cook was a second-teamer. Other Kang runners are Maria Strathy, Lily Ulrich, Esther Strathy and Christina Lewis.
Strzelec, a senior, said the sandy part of the course was a bit draining, but she forged through it and finished on a strong note.
During her years on the Juanita squad, Strzelec has developed a solid mentality and discipline on and off the course.
“Even when you’re in a lot of pain and the course is hard, you continue to go and you finish. That applies to a lot of aspects of life, like in school, doing your homework and doing well in classes, and with your family and friends,” she said.
Strzelec — whose PR is 19:24.2 — plans to continue running on her own or with an intramural group in college. This season, she runs about 10-15 miles a week with the team or solo at St. Edward State Park, Big Finn Hill Park, the Cross-Kirkland Corridor Trail or along Lake Washington.
“Running is definitely a good stress reliever,” she said. “It helps you just to focus on running and just kind of forget about other things in your life, but at the same time, just relieve your stress and prepare you for the day.”
It was about 24 days since senior Bailey had run a 5K cross-country race.
Runners first had two weeks off and then Bailey was sidelined with strep throat, but he returned to competition on Oct. 24 and was pleased with his performance.
“It felt good. I felt better than I expected to, honestly. Coming into it, I had the mindset of not knowing where I was gonna be. I think that really helped me, ‘cause I was less nervous to perform,” said Bailey, whose PR is 15:54.2.
After starting out slow in the back of the pack, he soon turned up the speed while advancing through the group and then picking some people off in the final part of the race.
Over the last three years at LW, Bailey has learned to persevere through sickness and the pain that comes with running a 3.1-mile course. It’s been an emotional ride, with ups and downs and injuries, but he’s come out of his shell more along the way.
“It’s brought me one of my closest friends and it’s taught me how to work with a team,” he said.
Bailey made the all-league first team, and fellow Kangs Luca Andonian and Nathan Hackley made the second team along with Juanita’s West. Other Kang runners were Alan Avilez-Moreno, Yujie (Jeff) Liu, Colin Bleakney and Jack Krammer.
Junior Andonian took ninth with a mark of 17:02.7 and said the team had a positive mindset heading into the race. His PR is 16:20.2.
“Running just teaches you how to be mentally tough, and that can translate over to the work force when you’re older,” he said.