Cougars big on experience, expectations

The Central Kitsap cross country season may have technically gotten underway earlier this month, but for many of the Cougar runners, it’s been going since the summer.

“It’s good,” CK coach John Emery said. “We’ve got a great group of athletes. So far we’re having a good season and a good time.”

With 56 runners out, the squad is about the same size it was last year. But with more than 100 runners from Ridgetop and CK Junior High schools and CKHS joining in the summer condition program Emery started, the team is looking even better (a handful of Olympic High students also participate in the program).

“It amazes me,” Emery said. “The last two years, we’ve had about 110 sign up. There’s usually always at least 45 or more at a given practice.”

The effort to organize the summer group earned Emery the first-ever Kitsap Gets Active award, bestowed by the Kitsap Gets Active Coalition, for “his outstanding leadership in engaging community youth in healthy and active lifestyles,” according to a news release from the Kitsap County Health District.

But for Emery, the real reward is seeing the program pay off for the kids.

“Yes, very much so,” he said. “The summer conditioning program is really paying off across the board, not just with cross country. It makes them so much stronger when they go into soccer or volleyball or any different sport.”

But it hasn’t hurt his own team either.

“They’ve been doing great,” Emery said of his Cougars. “We’re comparing last year’s times to this year’s and each one has taken their times down fairly significantly (20 to 90 seconds).”

Loaded with returners on both the boys’ and girls’ sides, Emery said this could be a very successful year for the CK program.

Leading the return for the boys are state qualifiers Shane Moskowitz and Rustin Winger. Cascade Herriott, Nick Pittman and Mark Zylstra also return.

“(They know) what they need to do to get it done, that’s correct,” Emery said. “That helps a lot. They know the warm-ups now, they’ve got stretching down. Now they can put in maximum effort on their runs.”

But that’s not all they’re bringing back to the table.

“And they’re leading the new ones,” Emery said. “You have returners sometimes that don’t really help the new ones. That’s not the case with this group. And that’s true on both the boys and girls side of the house.”

Leading the charge for the girls are another pair of state qualifiers in Shannon Moskowitz (Shane’s twin sister) and Brittany Siegrist. But they too are not alone as Maggie Crow, Allie Rue and Chelsea Raulsome also return.

“They’ve been great mentors again to the other athletes,” Emery said of the girls. “And they’re building a very strong team as they do it.”

Both squads are amped for the season, he said.

“Both the boys and girls teams are pretty dedicated to make it to state this year. That’s the objective,” Emery said.

And he believes it’s more than attainable.

“I think they are,” he said. “It’s very possible for them to accomplish that. This is a good year for us.”

Lauren Stueven, Kasey Pinto, Christina Pung, Melissa Ratliff and Hilary Coupe will all have roles on the girls squad, while for the boys, Mark Milcic, Nick Wilson, Riley Stuenven, Easton Wright, brothers Cullen and Scott MacClennan and Derek Parrish all figure into the plan as well.

All that depth means CK should be able to challenge in the Narrows League.

“As in past years, we’ll really have Bellarmine and Gig Harbor that we have to look out for,” Emery said. “We’re giving it a good shot, that’s for sure.”

But Emery emphasized that his team isn’t worried about anyone else right now.

“I’m not too concerned about the other teams at this point,” he said. “We’re still getting ready for league. This is not the time for them to reach their peaks.”

And of course, there’s one other reason to keep the focus close to home.

“As long as we keep them from being badly injured, we’ll be OK,” Emery said.

The Cougars travel to the Vashon Island Invitational at 11 a.m. today.

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