Former Yosemite High School runner Kim Lawhon, is optimistic about her first year as the school’s cross country head coach - and she should be with some experienced runners on both the boys and girls teams.
“It’s an honor to be the new Yosemite cross country head coach,” Lawhon said. “As a former YHS cross country runner I really want to continue cultivating the amazing team culture Ellen Peterson built, creating so many passionate runners for so many years. It has been a dream of mine to come back to my hometown and help YHS athletes realize their running talents.”
Lawhon, a 2000 graduate, ran four years for Yosemite from the 96-99 season, and went to Fresno Pacific University on a cross country and track scholarship.
“I came back to the area in 2005 to teach and have been a kindergarten teacher at Coarsegold Elementary since 2011,” Lawhon said. “I have been coaching cross country and track at Coarsegold with Melinda Gresham for four years. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my husband Sam, and our three children.
“Assistant Coach Brad Stegge and I are working hard to create strong team bonds this season. It is always hard for a team to go through coaching changes, especially two in a row after the stability Ellen Peterson created for so many years. Sonja Mazirah, last year’s coach, did a great job of demonstrating how to handle the challenges as a new head coach and I learned a lot just from watching Sonja last year.”
Top returning senior runners on the 35-member team are Russell Zelazo, Gabi Stegge, Rachel Mattos, and Ella Campbell.
“With 20 returning runners and 15 new runners, we have been fortunate to add a few athletic upperclassmen too, including Lilly Kuykendell, and Ben Johnson,” Lawhon said.
Sophomore Alec Small has joined the team. “Alec was a strong distance runner in track last season, and had the second fastest time of 11:45, behind Zelazo’s 10:15, for the boys team season opener run at the DeWitt Invitational in Madera on Sept. 2,” Lawhon said.
Lots of talent on girls team
The girls team has grown quite a bit from last season, and has talent across all classes, from freshman to seniors.
“Seniors Gabi (Steggie) and Rachel (Mattos) are self-motivated and always ready for a challenge, and as team captains we are sure to see them step up to match the new challenges we are seeing for the top varsity positions,” Lawhon said.
Lawhon is also anxious to see performances from a few other runners who were unable to attend the first meet of the season. .
The team also includes three talented freshman, Jocelyn Stansberry (Wawona Elementary), Kaia Owen (Rivergold Elemetary), and Emily Rich (Rivergold). Stansberry had the top female time at the DeWitt invitational (13:37) with Owen coming in with the day’s fourth best time for the Lady Badgers. Rich was unable to compete in the event.
At the Sept. 15 Sanger Invitational at Avocado Lake, open to large and small schools, two of the above freshman did well enough to receive medals, with Rich placing 10th (2 miles) in 13:58, and Stansberry coming in 16th (14:31). Yosemite’s girls team placed second out of 20 schools.
“This is a great start for these two freshman ... there were a lot of D-1 girls in this race,” Lawhon said.
Zelazo had a personal best time in the Open Division three-mile race, placing 45th out of 160 runners in 17:26.
“The team certainly has had some obstacles getting going this season due to smoke, air quality, and excessive heat,” Lawhon explained. “We sort of have a season restart after a week straight of canceled practices due to smoke. We will make the most of the season though and continue training for The Madera Invitational on Sept. 30, and the start of North Sequoia League Dual Meets on Oct. 4 at Washington Union.”
Lawhon said both her boys and girls teams will work hard to make a good showing in league.
“We look forward to seeing how far Russell (Zelazo) can take his talents his senior year,” Lawhon said. “Russell is a true competitor and I know he won’t miss a chance to make the most of his senior year.”
Lawhon feels her girls team has a real chance to place well in the Central Section D-III Valley Championship Meet.
The team will participate in the Sept. 30 Madera Invitational.