Remarkable Runners

editor@sierrastarSeptember 17, 2013 

They say there is strength in numbers — if that is true the Yosemite High School cross country team should be powerful this season.

Nearly 80 students, more than 10% of the YHS student body, are on the North Sequoia League's premier cross country team.

The Yosemite girls varsity team has dominated the Division III league, winning 23 consecutive league titles before being edged by Kerman last season for the league title. The boys varsity team won the NSL title last year and has finished first or second in the league 28 consecutive years.

No teams in YHS history has won more league championships than the boys and girls cross country program.

The Fresno Bee's pre-season ranking has the boys varsity team No. 22 in the Central Section and No. 6 in D-III.

The teams provided a sneak preview of how the season may go at the Aug. 31 20-team Dinuba Invitational — the boys varsity placed second, the varsity girls placed fourth, and the JV boy's team finished second. The frosh-soph boys and girls teams finished first and second, respectively.

Simpson and Hughey team leaders

The heart and soul of the team revolves around seniors Alek Simpson and Brittney Hughey. Simpson placed first at the Aug. 31 Dinuba Invitational. He finished the three-mile race in 9:59.

Simpson placed second in a field of 160 at last year's Central Section Division III championship and 32nd at the state meet last year in 16:14. In track, he won the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs at the NSL meet last spring and finished 12th at the Masters championship meet. The Masters brings together some of the best track and field athletes in the Central Section.

As a freshman, Simpson was 5-foot-8, 120 pounds and now he is 6-foot-2, 175 pounds. He's stronger and he feels more confident about his running than ever before.

Simpson, the team captain, is known for finishing ahead of all runners during practice, then circling back to run with and encourage other teammates to the finish line.

Hughey placed third in a field of about 50 girls in the two-mile varsity race at Dinuba with a time of 13:01.

Hughey ran cross country as a sophomore, but did not run last year, opting to join the YHS pep squad. She did however, have an extremely successful track season last spring.

She placed 8th in the 1,600 meter run at the Central Section Masters Championships in Fresno.

Prior to the Masters, Hughey placed second in the 1,600 at the May 8 Sierra-Sequoia small school meet, and at the North Sequoia League Championship meet at Yosemite, she swept the three distance events, taking first in the 800, 1,600, and 3,000 meter events.

Although Hughey missed a full week of practice with a case of strep throat, she particpated in the team's half marathon (13 miles) at Bass Lake Sept. 21, finishing in two hours, nine minutes.

"This is my last year of high school so I hope to have a good cross country season and run my best each race," Hughey said. "I feel I'll have a great season and I think out team has a great shot to win the league championship because we have so many strong runners. If I stay healthy and work hard I hope to be one of the top finishers at the end-of-season league meet.

Peterson begins 28th season as coach

The team is coached by Ellen Peterson — and some members of the team say Peterson, in her 28th year as coach, is the reason they are running cross country.

"Coach Peterson is the best coach I could ever ask for," said sophomore Natalie Chamberlain, who out ran more than 50 other runners in the two-mile frosh-soph girls race at the Dinuba Invitational.

Chamberlain, who won the race in 13:55, said her goal this year is to improve her time every time she runs.

Running cross country for the first time, sophomore Rose Curley finished second at Dinuba, just two seconds behind Chamberlain.

"I was shocked to place second at Dinuba," Curley said. "I didn't expect to do that well in my first race."

Curley, who swam for the Badger varsity swim team last year as a freshman, said a big part of her decision to run this year was Peterson.

"She's a very motivational coach," Curley said. 'I was also drawn to the overall friendly atmosphere of the team."

Although he has run marathons and half marathons, this is the first year sophomore Jonathan Mulkey has been on a cross country team. A student at Evergreen High School, Mulkey surprised some people by finishing fourth at Dinuba.

"It's a lot of fun to have teammates," Mulkey said. "We're like a big family — Everyone is very supportive of each other."

Peterson attributes the large number of team members to the tremendous support coaches in other sports, who encourage their athletes to run.

"This year's addition of so many outstanding men and women has moved us from 50-55 athletes, large by any school's standards, to the current total of nealy 80," Peterson said. "One coach at the last meet asked if we brought the whole school?"

Peterson is assisted by Michael Baird and her husband, John, a volunteer assistant.

The team will participate tomorrow (Friday) in the Sanger Invitational and the Mt. Whitney Invitational in visalia on Sept. 27. The first NSL meet will be at 2 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Woodward Park in Fresno.

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