Vikings’ run of firsts takes them to nationals
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
No question that South Tahoe High’s girls’ cross country team has taken one of the unlikeliest roads to the first Nike Team Nationals in Portland, Ore.
Starting the season with only one senior, a new coach and a group that finished third in their league a year ago, the Vikings were thought of as a team that would be fortunate to make the Nevada state meet.
But in the past several months the Vikings have vaulted themselves into the national scope through a rigorous offseason training program and a dedication to becoming the best runners possible.
Along the way, the Vikings won their division at the Stanford Invitational, finished runner-up at the Clovis Invitational, came in second at the Northern Nevada 4A regional meet and won the school’s first girls’ state cross country title. Those feats have helped the Vikings rise to No. 18 in the latest Harrier Magazine national cross country poll.
Their unbelievable run even earned them a mention in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. In a story about the Nike meet, the Vikings were mentioned as a dark horse and referred to as “the little lost children of the Sierra Nevada” by coach Dan Wilvers.
On Saturday, the Vikings, running under the name of the South Tahoe Cross Club, will have an opportunity to win a national championship.
What are these Vikings capable of against 19 of the country’s best running teams? They have been surprising people all season, will it be any different on Saturday?
“I have no way to indicate it. I think we’ll run tough, but how well tough will do I have no idea, because this is the elite,” Wilvers said.
“People say, well, you won a state title, but all of these teams won state titles and they are the top 20 teams period out of 50 states.”
What is evident, though, is that the Vikings have beaten some of the country’s best teams at the two major invitationals they entered. The best was Ventura, ranked No. 2 in the country, but a school that declined an invitation.
“We really have no idea what to expect,” said STHS junior Megan Hillyard. “There is no real set goal. It’s just to run hard and compete and see where we can end up. Dan thinks we can make the top 10 and that would be really awesome.”
Saratoga Springs from upstate New York is the premeet favorite since it has finished No. 1 in the national rankings in 10 of the past 12 years.
If the Vikings do finish in the top 10 and pull of a coveted top-three trophy finish, some of the credit should go to STHS boys’ coach Dominique Westlake. Westlake has been the rabbit that these greyhounds have been chasing during their trail and road workouts.
“He makes sure we get a good workout in and is a good inspiration,” Hillyard said.
For the past decade, Westlake has been making STHS’S boys’ team one of the best in Nevada. But this season, the boys and girls trained together, giving Westlake a new perspective on female athletes.
“They’ve helped me see a different side of running as well,” said Dominique Westlake, STHS’s boys’ coach for the past decade. “They are willing to put it on the line like anybody else and a lot of people forget that.”
The team arrived at the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike campus on Thursday morning and immediately they were flabbergasted with the reception.
“This is like the Wizard of Oz and we have landed,” Wilvers said. “As I speak, the girls are being fitted for two pairs of running shoes each. I don’t know if anybody deserves this.”
The girls’ race is at 10:30 a.m. and admission is free. The meet will be televised by Fox SportsNet on Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.