Viking girls running on full |

Viking girls running on full

In the 23 years that girls cross country running has been a sanctioned sport by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the school with the altitude training edge has yet to win a state championship.

That dubious streak may run its course in November as South Tahoe High has all the makings to capture that elusive crown.

After a stunning second-place finish at state last year, the Vikings enter the 2001 season with 20 returners, including Kathy Bluethman’s top-seven runners from a year ago.

“Pretty much our main goal is to win state because we were so close last year,” said Marin St. Michel, a three-time state qualifier. “We didn’t know how close we were going to be last year, and this year we have some idea we can do it.”

“We’re really strong, and I’m really proud of this team,” said sophomore Amanda Hammond, who’ll run varsity when the Viking open their season Friday at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. “We’re probably one of the few teams at South Tahoe High that could bring home anything from state.”

As the Vikings strive for a state title, they won’t feel any pressure coming from fourth-year coach Bluethman.

“We are hungry to get a stare berth, but I don’t have an expectation of it,” Bluethman said. “I don’t coach that way, because if they don’t make it, they are going to feel like they disappointed me. But if they did the best they could possibly do, I’m totally happy.

“Every coach wants to win, of course, and it makes their administrators really happy and the community happy. My goal always is I want these girls to be able to see self-improvement.”

St. Michel and Bluethman have seen the program progress from one of the weakest in the state to one of the best. During Bluethman’s first season, St. Michel was the only runner who could perform a sub-8-minute mile.

“I came in thinking that I was going to have sub-8-minute mile runners on varsity, and I had one girl who could do that,” Bluethman said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, we’re living in Tahoe. There’s no way this could be happening.’

“And now I have sub 7-minute milers, and I have five or six of them.”

An infusion of self-motivated runners has turned the program around, according to St. Michel.

“We’ve gotten more runners who have had a little more experience, and they know what they’re doing,” she said.

Among them are sophomore Amber Ramos, who nearly won regional and state individual titles as a freshman. Ramos was runner-up to Carson’s Shanna Sparks at regionals and fourth at state.

“Cross country is her time to feel that she’s still a young girl and she can be silly, goofy and cute,” Bluethman said. “She was the one at state that got the girls totally in the zone. It wasn’t me. She took these girls away and just focused them. They came up to the starting line and there was fire in their eyes.”

In addition to St. Michel and Ramos, the Vikings had two other runners crack the top 20 at last year’s state meet. Juniors Erica Zampardo and Caitlin Robinson finished 15th and 18th, respectively. Collectively, they have raised the standards in the eyes of the team’s other runners.

“The top four girls are inspiring and motivating, and they’re good to be around,” Hammond said.

Beyond them are a pack of solid runners, including Hammond, junior Katie Sheehan and senior Cecilia Cuevas. Sophomores Aricela Ramos and Jennifer Wolf give Bluethman additional depth that could come in handy if any injuries occur.

Realizing that it takes more than talent and motivation to win state, the Vikings began voluntary workouts earlier than ever – July 1 – under Bluethman’s supervision.

“They’re getting comfortable with my training styles and with what’s necessary to make the best out of themselves,” Bluethman said. “It seems the next level just hit them.

“To me, competitive sports teaches the biggest lesson, and that is to set goals for yourself. It can’t be everyone else’s wants and desires. It has to be something you want for yourself, and that just goes for anything in life.”

Coach: Kathy Bluethman, fourth year.

Last year: Third at regionals, second at state.

Returners: 20, including top-7 runners.

Quote: “”We didn’t know how close we were going to be last year, and this year we have some idea we can do it,” Marin St. Michel.

Opener: Friday at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno.

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