Ilwaco’s cross country teams are about more than their stars.
The Fishermen will send all 16 of their runners to the 1B/2B State Championships on Saturday in Pasco, marking the third straight year the program has qualified the boys’ and girls’ squads to state.
“It’s always really great,” junior Estella Sheldon said. “So many kids get to go over there, and we all get to do all the things we never get to see. It makes practice better too. Some teams only have a couple kids going and have a whole week of practice with just only a couple kids. We have a whole bunch.”
The consistent success stems from a strong 2020 graduating class. Along with Sheldon, Alex Carper, Kaytlenn Whelden and Nisa Mendoza are all juniors on the girls’ side, while Tristan Trudell, Daniel Whiting and Colton McNabb are juniors on the boys’ team.
“I’m very excited,” coach Sarah Taylor said. “This is a special, exciting group.”
Making this group particularly unique, Taylor says, is how they hold each other accountable. She doesn’t have to track kids down to attend practice; the kids police themselves knowing how important every point becomes in the postseason.
“We always try to get everyone up in the pack, and we always ask each other about our injuries,” Trudell said. “We can have that sort of team mentality and not leave anyone out. Everyone on the varsity team is really vital. It’s good to have a team-oriented focus.”
Also making the trek Saturday for the Fishermen are Ghannon Whelden, Logan Simonson, Brady Rasmussen, Anderson Stoddard, John Glenn and Nate Hopkins for the boys, and Carli Kemmer, Emma Brundage and Daniela Mendez for the girls.
And with everyone having an equal on the team, it allows the Fishermen to run in pairs or groupings to motivate one another. That was particularly true for Carper, Kemmer and Sheldon in last Saturday’s district race.
The trio finished 23rd, 26th and 27th after running together much of the race, including sidestepping a particularly playful chocolate Labrador.
“It feels amazing to have them,” Kemmer said. “If one of them is starting to slow down, we can push them. If I’m struggling, they push me. It’s just really helpful.”
Several of the Fishermen described it as a “family”, and it crosses over from both teams. The boys help the girls, and vice versa. The thought of disappointing a family member keeps everyone at their best.
“When I miss practice, I feel guilty. Like I’m missing out or letting the team down,” Sheldon said. “You want to be there to get better. We don’t leave anybody behind, and that really ingrains in people’s minds and makes them want to come.”
Despite all the success, this year has been “bumpy” at times for Ilwaco, Sheldon said. Injuries have delayed some runners, and so this weekend becomes about enjoying the trip and just trying to have a good run.
But there’s still another year to look forward to for most of these runners, and that’s plenty of reason to be joyful too.
“After seeing this season and last year, it makes you want to work harder for next year,” Sheldon said. “This summer, we’re really trying to work it and be in good shape at the start of next season.”