South Tahoe picks up the pace
A sixth-place finish at the regional championships isn’t an ordinary result for the South Tahoe High boys’ cross country program.
It’s a performance that isn’t likely to be duplicated anytime soon now that coach Dominique Westlake has a few more seasoned runners on his roster. STHS won a state championship seven years ago and was third in Nevada only two years ago. But the team’s size has shrunk in recent years as the demands of the sport have increased and enrollment has declined in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District.
“Last year was a rebuilding year, teaching these guys how to run. They got a ton of experience at the varsity level, running against some really good competition,” Westlake said. “This year, I see these guys stepping it up a lot more, getting themselves more in the thick of things in the league and other invitational.”
Last season, the Vikings made a run at qualifying for the state championships with a sophomore-laden group that included only one junior and one senior among their top seven runners.
A year later the Vikings have an opportunity to cash in on the big-race experience that juniors Patrick Reilly, Joey Summerhill and Chris Gamage, Matt Arroues and Matt Young lapped up in 2005.
“We only have one senior – me, so it’s pretty much gonna depend on the juniors how far we’re gonna get this year,” said senior captain Kyle Conroy. “We definitely have people who have put in a lot of work and Westlake has modified the schedule this year to put the hammer down. We have a really strong workout schedule this year.”
After placing 18th at regionals in 2004, Conroy was expected to be one of the Vikings’ top runners as a junior. But tendinitis and a stress fracture to his right foot wiped out his regular season and Conroy only made it back in time to run the regional championships. Nearly 100 percent now, Conroy is focused on making up for lost time.
“There is still some general pain in that area, but I’m looking forward to having an injury-free season,” Conroy said.
Conroy’s larger presence with the team this season should help the Vikings stay sharp.
“Everyone respects him,” Gamage said. “He can get most of the team to listen to him pretty easily.”
The Vikings will also be deeper as the freshman turnout is much larger than a year ago. Westlake expects a 20-member roster by the opening of school, compared to 15 a year ago. Team numbers are slowly climbing despite a rigorous summer and preseason workout schedule that requires them to be early risers.
“People don’t want to come out and spend their mornings running 6 to 8 miles,” said Summerhill, who isn’t one of them. “So far, we’ve been working harder than last year, and we just need to keep that up. We are gonna be kind of an underdog going into it, because Reno and Galena are pretty strong, but we have the deepest team so far.”
Reilly used a three-week trip to Europe (he only ran once and got lost) to recharge himself mentally for the difficult months ahead.
“Running is like life,” Reilly said. “You are gonna have your good days, you’re gonna have your bad days. You’re gonna have to go through pain, and if you can just push it past that pain you’re gonna have a great outcome.”
Reilly led the team as sophomore, finishing 13th at regionals and 19th (18:14) at the state meet. One of only two Vikings to compete at state a year ago, Reilly has the respect of his teammates.
“These guys are modest,” Gamage said. “P.J. doesn’t say he’s the best on the team, even though he is the best on the team.”
Halfway through his high school athletic career Reilly can’t believe how his sport has progressed.
“It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be,” he said. “All of the coaches have stepped up everything and everyone is training so hard, that really, it’s anyone’s race. It’s just who has the great day.
“This year is gonna be so unpredictable, because there are so many teams that could take it this year. We have a lot of young guys, but we have Conroy leading us, so we can’t go wrong there.”
With Reno, Carson and Galena the preseason favorites to secure the North’s two state meet berths, the off-the-radar Vikings are feverishly working to return to the top.
“We’d love to qualify for state,” the 15th-year coach said. “It will be a very competitive league this year. If we can continue to progress throughout the season, we want to put ourselves in position to have an opportunity to compete for that second spot or third.”
STHS cross country schedule
Friday Class races @ Lampe Park 3 p.m.
Sept. 8 Reed Invitational 3 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Hug (McQueen) 3 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Carson (Reno) 3 p.m.
Sept. 22 S.T. Relays 3 p.m.
Sept. 30 Stanford Inv. TBA
Oct. 4 Douglas, N.V. at S.T. 3 p.m.
Oct. 7 Clovis Inv. TBA
Oct. 14 Bella Vista Inv. TBA
Oct. 18 At Damonte (Wooster) 3 p.m.
Oct. 26 Regionals, Reno TBA
Nov. 4 State, Las Vegas TBA