Family has always been a characteristic as Northwest Christian High School developed into a Class 2B cross country power.
Both coach Mike Michael and former coach Larry Weber had children run for the Navigators. Perhaps no family, though, has anchored the program the way the McSheffreys have.
After dominant victories in the District 4 2B meet, Northwest Christian heads to the 2B/1B state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco this weekend with sophomore Garrett McSheffrey among the top Navigators boys and his sister, Megan, a senior, near the front of the girls’ lineup.
“They ran really well at districts, I wouldn’t expect anything different at state,” Michael said. “Megan has really moved up the last two meets. Garrett’s running fearlessly, he’s more than ready.”
The two runners aren’t the only family members helping the Navigators. Their mom, Janee, who coached middle school cross country and track for three years across the parking lot at Community Christian Academy, joined the Northwest Christian staff last track season.
“Janee’s helped far more than I expected,” Michael said. “She takes half the group when we split up, helps time intervals. We have a lot of support on this team between parents, coaches, kids. She’s a huge part of making that gel.”
Janee’s husband, Lou, helps coach Navigators jumpers during track season. They met when she worked at Kanakuk Kamp, a Christian sports camp in Missouri. Their older daughter, Abby, who now runs the 800 meters and 400 hurdles for NCAA Division II Oklahoma Baptist University, is a Northwest Christian alum.
“I love coaching my own kids,” Janee said. “I love getting to see their progression. I love getting to see them on a daily basis. That’s one of my reasons for coaching.”
Garrett’s progression hit an apex last weekend during the district meet at Onalaska High School, running a personal record 15 minutes, 53.1 seconds for the 5,000 meters — a full 28 seconds faster than he’d ever run — which was good for third place, just a tick behind sophomore teammate Noah Phillips.
“Noah and I are super competitive in workouts and races,” Garrett said. “I started coming up on him. He responded and I didn’t respond back.”
Megan has also consistently been the second fastest of a dominant Navigators trio that claimed the first three spots at districts. She ran a near two-minute season best of 19:03.9 to finish between district champion Ellie Summers, also a senior, and third-place Ava Shackell, a junior transfer from Black Hills.
“I wanted to be more aggressive and competitive,” Megan said. “I was lacking that earlier in the season. Lately my eyes have been open to that. I need to fix that and lean on God for strength. I was trying to lean on my own strength, which hasn’t gotten me very far.”
As her children worked toward those improvements, Janee picked her spots when it came to offering advice.
“I try to be wise with it. If it’s something that I already worked through with them I’d like to bring up again, I defer,” she said. “It’s nice to have other voices speaking into our kids’ lives. The coaches here have been phenomenal.”
Michael knows the feeling. When he and Weber coached together, they conveyed coaching points to their offspring through each other.
“Our kids were in the same grade,” he remembered, laughing. “I’d say, ‘Hey, Larry, Aaron needs to hear this, can you go tell him.’ He’d say, ‘Can you go tell Elizabeth this? ‘Cause she won’t listen to me.’ ”
Whatever they said worked. Aaron Michael went on to run for Saint Martin’s University. Elizabeth Weber, who finished in the top 10 at state four straight years for the Navigators, at Corban University in Oregon.
Megan and Garrett appreciate having their mom around the team.
“It’s really cool to see her take the younger girls under her wing and have a different perspective than the other coaches might have,” Megan said.
“She’s super helpful,” Garret said. “As far as I can tell, the girls team loves her, the younger girls love running with her.”
Meanwhile, both siblings are looking forward to the state meet. The Northwest Christian boys are favorites to claim a fourth straight championship. Hamilton Summers, Cameron Neilsen, Tony Dominguez and Carson Buster joined Phillips and McSheffrey in the top 15 at districts.
The girls must contend with favored Liberty Bell, but with Nina Fraser, Tosin Faleke and Jacalyn Tague supporting the big three, can’t be counted out.
“We should do well, but nothing matters until you go to the meet and do it on that very day,” Michael said.