The Gig Harbor High School cross-country program has a long and proud tradition of high quality runners. This year is no different, with two underclassmen leading the way for the Tides.
The two standouts for the team have been Belle Johnson, a sophomore, and Kaley Fergus, a freshman, who have both been leading a younger group of runners this season. Their commitment has coach Patty Ley excited for the future.
“They love to run. They’re both kind of doing the same thing,” Ley said. “It’s going to be a fun future, that’s for darn sure. I’m really excited about that.”
While Fergus hasn’t registered a first-place finish yet season, she has had a strong season, including a fifth-place finish at a 3A SSC meet in Shelton on Oct. 1, clocking in at 20 minutes, 33.21 seconds.
She spoke about how she hopes to improve her times and continue to get better throughout her career. “It’s been pretty good,” Fergus said. “I’d like to improve a lot more and maybe get higher places and PR a lot more.”
She’s looking to continue shaving time off in her first high school season.
“For the 5K, probably break 20 minutes sometime soon,” Fergus said. “I’m pretty close, just a few seconds.”
Beyond that, she has aspirations for the rest of her time on the team. After all, she has a whole three more years to leave her mark.
“I’d like to make it to state and do pretty well in state,” Kaley said. “Like top 50, top 40.”
The only member of the team to make it to state last year was Johnson. This year, she is the only one on the team to take first in a meet this year, clocking in at a personal record 17 minutes, 13 seconds at a 4,150-meter race at Sehmel Homestead Park on Sept. 18.
“I think what went well about it is that I was really focused going into the race and that was one of the courses that I’ve run a lot of times so I knew pace-wise how fast I should be going around each lap,” Johnson said.
That knowledge and experience has helped her to grow as she also hopes to push herself to get faster in the final stretch of this season going into state.
“I’m starting to grow more as a runner and learn more tips about competing,” Johnson said. “My goals are to finish higher up in the state rankings and of course go for a PR this season at state.”
Ley praised her promising sophomore for setting a high bar for herself.
“She has been our No. 1 pretty consistently,” Ley said.
Johnson’s competitive edge has set her apart for the Tides this season.
“I’m a really competitive person. I like to compete in everything,” she said. “I’m just really passionate about running too. I really enjoy it. I’m really just in for the long run.”
Ley shares those aspirations for Johnson.
“Getting her on the podium would be awesome for this year.” Ley said. “We’ve got a great state, but she’s running really well, so that looks reasonable.”
Having strong performances from upperclassmen is common at Gig Harbor High, but for underclassmen to be racing at this level is unique for the Tides program.
“I think they’re just not afraid. I think they’re willing to be risk-takers and take a chance,” Ley said. “They’re just competitors. They just like racing people and beating people. No drama, just go do.” One thing that they are having to be wary of is the wear and tear that comes with a long season. That makes rest and recovery all the more important in the final stretch.
“We’re closing in on the end of the season,” Ley said. “We’ve got little dings and dents which you get at this time, so we’re just trying to get all those healed up and see what happens.”
Ley and the team have adjusted the practices accordingly and have made sure not to overextend their athletes to keep them at their best.
“We’re just getting them ready to perform at their best and be fresh,” Ley said. “At this point, we’re going to shorten up the total volume of them, so it’s not going to be as dense.”
What do those specific adjustments look like? They aren’t any less fast, but they are making sure that they are keeping the team in good condition.
“They’ll be a touch faster,” Ley said. “There’s certain things about cross country where it’s all aerobic or mostly aerobic. So we’re going to still stay in that and we’re going to still stay with our tempos, we’re going to still stay with our hills. State is really hilly. District has got some hills, so we’ve got to stay with those. But just a little bit lighter, just not quite as much.”
It remains to be seen if that shift will pay off for the young team, but one thing is certain: They are looking ahead to a bright future.