The sport of cross country, by its very nature, is about moving forward.
For two Capital High athletes, it’s also about standing up — to a race, to injury, to controversial political issues — and to the Cougar girls’ mission to return as a team to the state cross country meet for a 16th straight year.
Sophomore Naomi Reyes and junior Inanna McCarty have emerged as leaders of a young Capital team — only one senior is among the top seven runners — by being tough-minded about life and their sport.
The Cougars, ranked fifth in Class 3A for District 3-4, will need to finish among the top six teams in the district meet Oct. 31 at American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood to advance to the 3A state meet in Pasco. Before that, the Cougars will compete in the Narrows League 3A meet Oct. 21 at Fort Steilacoom Park.
Kevin Wright has been Capital’s head coach for all 15 of the Cougars’ consecutive state appearances — a 16th would tie a state record for public high schools. If his runners each get a personal record, even in small increments, he said, the Cougars have a good chance of making the cut.
“If we run scared,” Wright said, “we’ll be in trouble. But now we’re running confident. They’ve come a long way.”
Reyes has stepped naturally into the role of the Cougars’ clear No. 1 runner following the graduation of last year’s seniors. Reyes is ranked fourth individually in the district with a best time of 19 minutes, 31.7 seconds over a 5,000-meter course.
Wright predicted a tight cluster at the front of the race at American Lake among the top four or five runners in the district, including Reyes.
“Naomi’s a pretty tough racer,” Wright said. “I know she’ll show up.”
Meets don’t make her nervous, Reyes said this week after practice.
“Let’s see who can get from Point A to Point B the fastest,” she said. “That’s my favorite part.”
McCarty has progressed as high as No. 5 on her team through a season of steady improvement after missing all of her sophomore season with stress fractures in her shins. At the recent Curtis Invite, McCarty ran 21:46.6, beating the personal record she set during her freshman season, and scored important points for Capital.
“She was a big reason,” Wright said, “why we improved from (seeded) 10th in district to fifth.”
Running is 80 percent physical, McCarty said, but she’s improved most in the other 20 percent — the part that says, “I can do this. I can get the girl in front of me.”
Besides their competitive natures, McCarty and Reyes share something else: a passionate pride in their Native American heritage.
McCarty felt the culture shock — as she puts it, “to walk in both worlds” — when she moved with her family from Neah Bay, the homeland of the Makah Nation, just before her freshman year at Capital. Her father, Micah McCarty, is an artist and chief of the Wa’atch, one of five villages of the Makah.
McCarty said she’s faced discrimination at Capital, including a teacher who criticized the Makahs’ ancient tradition of hunting whales.
“We’ve been hunting whales since before Jesus,” she said. “No treaty right can take that away from us.”
Reyes added, “People of the water.”
Reyes did not grow up on a reservation, but she’s always felt a kinship with the community of the Squaxin Island Tribe of Shelton. She met and became friends with Billy Mills, the Oglala Lakota Sioux runner who won a gold medal in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. She cherishes the “shout out” Mills sent her through his Facebook page.
Their heritage, both girls say, is inseparable from their running.
“Every time I run I bring a sense of pride … Native Americans are still here, still strong,” Reyes said.
“Every step I take is the beat of a drum,” McCarty said.
Soon they’ll get a chance to step up, along with their Cougar teammates, and seek another trip to the state meet.
Said Reyes: “We haven’t been known for backing down from a challenge.”