It did not take much insight to project South Kitsap top boys and girls cross-country runners.
LaForrest Church on the boys side and Jessica Peterson for the girls team.
But that was a year ago.
With both graduating last spring, first-year coach Kathy Ballew is looking for new lead runners, particularly on the girls team. In addition to Peterson, who finished 33rd in the 5-kilometer state meet in 19 minutes, 14.5 seconds, in Pasco, the Wolves also graduated Darby Womack. She finished 39th in 19:19.6 at state.
“We’re very young,” Ballew said. “We lost a lot of talent in our graduating class, especially on the boys side.”
She said both teams will have time trials at Jackson Lund Park, their new home course after running for years at Cedar Heights Junior High, and she thinks freshman Eva Knowles could emerge as the No. 1 runner for the girls team. Ballew is hesitant to make comparisons, but she agreed Knowles’ ascension is similar to that of Peterson, who set the school record in the 800-meter run in 2010 at Cedar Heights.
“We have a really nice looking young freshman in Eva Knowles,” Ballew said.
Knowles has some competition for the top varsity spot.
“Anna Parkinson has really come in a lot more healthy and in condition along with McKenzie Henry,” said Ballew, adding that senior Emily Easterday also is returning.
On the boys side, Ballew expects junior Sam Grader to inherit the No. 1 position from Church, who signed to run track at the University of Memphis. Grader could be challenged by classmate Mason Villarma, but Ballew does not expect that to happen immediately.
“I think Mason might have a little catching up to do,” she said, adding that most of the combined 38 runners on both teams met three times per week to workout together during the summer. “He goes away and does his fishing during the summer in Alaska.”
Others Ballew expects to vie for the six varsity positions include sophomores Nate Anderson and Jack Shaffer and senior Joe Jorgenson.
“As far as the young ones go, I think they’re going to have an impact,” she said.
Ballew hopes to challenge her youthful squads with a couple of invitationals midway through the season. The Wolves are scheduled to compete in the Sept. 28 Nike Pre-Nationals in Portland and the Oct. 12 Hoquiam Invite. Ballew particularly is excited about the former, which brings in teams from throughout the Northwest.
“That’s a big one,” Ballew said. “It’s going to be fun.”
But Ballew, who succeeds Paul Zimmmer as coach, wants more than that. She guided South’s fastpitch program to a state championship in 1995 and remembers watching former coach Ed Santos, who now is the school’s athletic director, regularly field one of Washington’s top cross-country programs.
“We want to get it back to that,” Ballew said. “I’m looking forward to that all of time.”