They don’t talk in terms of dynasty in the cross country program at Northwest Christian High School in Lacey.
Instead, athletes and coaches speak — sincerely — about the joy of running; of fun, fellowship and family, and of reaching for and expanding their potential.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the numbers.
Under coach Larry Weber’s tutelage, the Navigators have few peers at the state Class 1B/2B level. Both the girls and boys teams earned state championship trophies at last fall’s 1B/2B state meet.
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For the girls, it was their ninth straight. They haven’t lost since 2005, when Charles Wright took the crown. The Navigators placed fifth that year.
The boys also won Class 2B titles in 2008 and 2009, and they placed second in 2011.
The tradition of excellence, Weber said, is passed to each generation each year.
“It’s a commitment,” he said, “a work ethic.”
This fall’s teams appear poised to carry the torch. While the girls lost four of their top five runners from last year, the cupboard is hardly bare. And the boys team, Weber said, is the best he has ever had.
Northwest Christian competes mostly in invitational, multischool meets — including the Navigators’ own invitational Oct. 13 at their home course on the Saint Martin’s University campus.
The Navigator boys, led by two-time state individual runner-up Luke Schilter, a junior, are ranked No. 5 nationally in Division II by HighSchoolTrackandCrossCountry.com, and No. 1 in the 1B/2B state coaches cross country poll.
Schilter is in the best shape of his life, Weber said, and in the Navigators’ first meet of the season — Saturday’s Capital Invite at Capital High School — he won his race (against juniors from 35 schools of all classifications) and briefly held the course record with his personal-best time of 11 minutes, 28.42 seconds. A runner in the senior race later broke the record in 11:27.04, leaving Weber to wish the two had been able to race head to head.
“He’s a very, very humble young man,” Weber said of Schilter. “He’s looking very strong right now.”
As a freshman and sophomore, Schilter finished second in the state meet to Chandler Teigen of Asotin, who has since graduated.
“The way Luke’s running,” Weber said, “he certainly has a chance to compete for the state title.”
Schilter names an individual state title as a goal, and he’s confident the team can top the podium, too.
“I think we should win state for our division,” he said. “If we don’t, it would be kind of a shock.”
Rounding out the boys team’s top five are junior Corban Phillips, a state placer in the 3,200 meters at the 1B/2B track meet last spring; senior Luke Bredeson; senior Colton Buster; and junior Eli Taylor.
The Navigator boys have the ability to run as a pack for the first couple miles of a race, pushing each other all the while, according to Weber.
“This group is the best we’ve had at that,” he said.
Sophomore Megan McSheffrey is the top — and only — returnee for the Navigators girls, a new role for her. In the Capital Invite, she improved her time by 30 seconds over last year, Weber said.
“It’s definitely different from last year,” she said of the 2014 season, when she was a ninth-grader on a state champion team.
She accepts being the No. 1 runner, but says, “I still see my team as a team — we need the whole team.”
Sophomore Ellie Summers, a top-eight finisher at the state track meet in the 3,200, improved her time at the Capital Invite by a full minute, which Weber called a pleasant surprise
“She’s coming along like gangbusters,” Weber said.
Lauren Dominguez, who ran her freshman and sophomore years before missing last season, returns to the program this year as a senior. Junior Katie Treinan has shown steady improvement, said Weber, and he also expects contributions from Lina Hoffman and Chloe Colello.
The sustained success of the Northwest Christian program is not by accident. Weber, the superintendent by day of the K-12 Northwest Christian school system, is a former North Thurston High runner who later competed at an elite level, including at the University of Montana.
He is as much student of distance running as teacher.
“We have really good coaches who truly care about the runners,” said Bredeson, now in his fourth year in the program. “They devote a lot of their lives to really study running.”
The Navigators train at lower mileages than many high school cross country programs, Weber said, and tailor workouts to the skills and capabilities of each individual. Newcomers to the Northwest Christian team are brought along slowly, and more mileage is added only when they’re ready.
“We train scientifically,” he said. “We really try hard to assess each person. It’s really a lot like a personal trainer.
“You learn their idiosyncrasies, you learn how much they can handle, and not burn them out.”
And it’s hardly all work and no play, Weber and his runners say. Fun training runs, such as the Mud Run, the Frozen Yogurt Run and the Pizza Run, are legendary in the program.
Team retreats to such places as Eugene, Oregon, the Northwest’s spiritual home for distance running, help in the bonding among runners.
“They share a common faith, common goals, a common commitment,” Weber said. “They really respect each other.”
The respect extends to opponents in meets, reflected in a tradition whereby every Navigators runner waits by the finish chute until every runner of every team has completed the race.
“We know the pain every other runner goes through,” Bredeson said. “It’s kind of a way we minister to other schools and other people.”
The senior Bredeson is looking ahead to finding a college where he can continue running and hopefully competing, he said, in a culture much like Weber has fostered at Northwest Christian.
“He’s impacted so many lives, really created such a family,” he said. “It’s really touched my heart.”
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Teams to watch
Boys: Northwest Christian is known for having consistently strong teams, but coach Larry Weber said this is the best team in the history of the Navigators’ program. The five-runner combo of Luke Schilter, Corban Phillips, Luke Bredeson, Colton Buster and Eli Taylor are ranked No. 5 nationally at the DII level by
HighSchoolTrackandCrossCountry.com. They also topped the preseason state coaches poll cross country poll in Class 1B/2B.
Girls: With the addition of junior Kiersten Kimminau, a transfer from Northwest Christian, Olympia has the core to make a run at the Class 4A state podium. The Bears return their top four runners from last season in Stella Grimsted, Ariel Wilhite, Brenna Carlson and Maia Halverson. Olympia placed 10th at the state meet last season, and was ranked No. 10 in the preseason state coaches cross country poll for 4A programs.
Five runners to watch
Peter Allegre, North Thurston, sr.: The defending 3A Narrows League champion took 29th at the state meet last season. He took second in the senior race at the Capital Invite last weekend — the winner of the race broke the course record.
Lauren Ericks, Tumwater, sr.: After finishing 10th at the 2A meet last year in a time of 19 minutes, 23.34 seconds, Ericks said she wants to crack the top five. T-Birds coach Rich Brown has more in mind — he thinks she can chase down the individual title.
Stella Grimsted, Olympia, so.: Grimsted returns as the top runner for the Bears. She broke 19 minutes for a 5,000-meter personal best 18:58.78 as a freshman at the 4A state meet last year to finish 26th.
Naomi Reyes, Capital, so.: Reyes is at the forefront for the Cougars after seventh-place 3A state finisher Lauren Pierson graduated. Reyes took 33rd at state as a freshman at 19:39.55 — 10 seconds off her personal best.
Luke Schilter, Northwest Christian, jr.: With Asotin’s Chandler Teigen out of the way (he graduated last spring), Schilter — a two-time runner up at the 1B/2B state meet — is the leading candidate for the individual crown.
Best of the rest
Luke Bredeson, Northwest Christian, sr.; Colton Buster, Northwest Christian, sr.; Brenna Carlson, Olympia, sr.; Jace Cotton, Capital, jr.; Beau Crabill, Capital, jr.; Marin Farrell, Capital, jr.; Lauryn Gray, River Ridge, jr.; Evan Groat, Tumwater, jr.; J.P. Guyer, W.F. West, sr.; Maia Halvorson, Olympia, sr.; Aven Hart, Capital, so.; Lina Hoffman, Northwest Christian, sr.; Peter Holman, Rochester, sr.; Charlie Jellison, North Thurston, so.; Thomas Johnson, North Thurston, jr.; Kiersten Kimminau, Olympia, jr.; Megan McSheffrey, Northwest Christian, so.; Joseph Morrissey, Tumwater, so.; Noah Murry, Olympia, sr.; Kelin Pasko, Rochester, so.; Corban Phillips, Northwest Christian, jr.; Ben Riley, Olympia, sr.; Ellie Summers, Northwest Christian, so.; Eli Taylor, Northwest Christian, jr.; Terek Thornburg, W.F. West, sr.; Jonah Valler, Tumwater, sr.; Ariel Wilhite, Olympia, jr.