The 2015 Yosemite High cross country season opens with high expectations sprinkled with a touch of bittersweet. The 30-year reign of Head Coach Ellen Peterson will come to a conclusion at the end of this season.
One of the last original staff members from when the school opened in 1976, Peterson will retire at the end of this school year, after teaching YHS students for 40 years. Far from being sad, the vivacious Peterson has dubbed 2015 as the ‘Year of living Badgerously.’
Peterson is upbeat about the season, and promises it will be a fun, exciting, and challenging conclusion to the most successful program in YHS history.
“Our theme says a lot,” Peterson said. “It is about working hard, challenging ourselves to get better every day, and having fun doing it. We will be competitive too, bet on that. We are going to have a great season.”
Peterson, who took over the cross country program from Bob Collins in 1986 after coaching girls basketball for 10 years, and softball for seven, said her retirement timing is perfect.
“I’ve been blessed to have coached for 40 years,” Peterson said. “To go out on the 40th anniversary of Yosemite High School is beyond perfect.”
From the standpoint of league titles, no program comes close to Badger cross country. Peterson has garnered no less than 42 league titles (18 boys/24 girls). Each program has won a Central Section CIF title, and the girls team won 12 straight league titles from 2000 to 2011.
When you ask her about league titles, she’ll smile and says, ‘look at the wall,’ referring to the list of school league titles for all sports painted on the wall of the school’s gym.
Yosemite is coming off another championship season as the girls program took the North Sequoia League title last year. This season will prove to be a challenge for Peterson, her staff, and runners.
Yosemite, as usual, has a deep (64 runners) but youthful pool of talent.
Peterson sees a core group of runners who will contribute immediately. But Peterson knows, like every season, runners will blossom late in the season, when it really matters. For a team as young and deep as Yosemite, an encore NSL title for Peterson and staff is in reach.
For the boys, seniors Kevin Kirk, Matt Horton, Andrew Volpetti, and brother’s Travis and Trevor Wood all have experience, and are hungry for a league title. Overall, the boys will have 33 runners.
Peterson says underclassmen Joe Campbell and Alex Williams have a huge upside.
“Down the road, Joe could be competing for our top runner,” Peterson says.
Peterson is also high on freshman Ethan Conti, David O’Brien, and Russell Zelazo.
“Eli, David, and Russell are young but they will have an impact,” Peterson said. “This group is a mix of experience and youthful potential. Down the road we expect other runners to emerge. It is strength with the depth we have.”
The girls are young, lack a lot of experience but have high potential. Yosemite lost two of their top runners from last season, choosing not to run this year. Peterson has a group of sophomores who will have an impact in the NSL.
“Twins Olivia and Rachel Mattos along with Gabby Stegge will be the foundation early on,” Peterson said. “All three had a strong freshman season. Gabby has a great work ethic, as all our girls do. Even though the group is young, they are high in maturity. This means they run with positive attitude all the time. That’s not something you coach, but a quality you find inside a person.”
Team captains, all seniors and four year runners, are Kirk, Russell Warmerdam, and Jessica Fine.
Peterson will be assisted by a strong staff, including former YHS and Fresno Pacific runner Kim Lawhon, long-time assistant Sonya Mazaira, and Peterson’s husband John.
The entire team will run a half marathon together at 8 a.m. this Saturday at Bass Lake, and about 150 runners, and parents are expected to be there, with a barbecue following the run. From there, the season will be in full swing as YHS will compete in the Sanger Invitational on Sept. 18. Coaches from throughout the Central Valley will be there to shake her hand - as they will do throughout the cross country season.
Kerman is expected to win the NSL this season for both boys and girls, but don’t count out YHS. Despite the youth, there is lot of talent and depth. The high level of competition at daily practices will push each runner. Peterson always has her runners ready when it counts - at the North Sequoia League championships.
Another title would be a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary coaching career.