Coach has Cougar girls targeted for big things

"Mark Ward doesn't ask much of his Central Kitsap High School cross country runners when they use the telephone in his classroom.Say please, thank you and I love you, Ward tells student-athletes using the phone to call parents for a post-workout ride home. I wanna hear those three things.Ward will be more demanding once the season begins. He's got high expectations for both the Cougar boys and girls teams, in what could be a pretty demanding Olympic League schedule this season.The Cougar girls are the defending league Class 4A champions, and return five runners from the squad that earned a trip to the state 4A championships in Pasco last November. This time out, Ward has given them the goals of defending their league title, finishing in the top three at the West Central District meet and taking a top-10 spot at state.I told the girls that since we won league, and since we bring so many people back, we automatically have a target on our back, Ward says of this year's girls race. We're going to have to run well in every race if we want to repeat as champions.Having that target on our backs will make us better in the long run, he says. Actually, if we can continue to improve every week and have everybody lower their times from last year, that's all I can ask.The quintet of returning runners includes seniors Erin Jensen, Katie Trent and Christina Willy, junior Cathleen Willy and sophomore Janell Emery.The Cougar boys don't have to worry about wearing any bulls-eyes - those uniforms have been doled out to the Port Angeles Roughriders, who dominated the league last year and are projected as a contender for the state 4A crown this fall.That doesn't mean Ward doesn't have some goals for his boys squad - even though it comes into this season without last year's top two runners. Matt Becker, the fourth-place finisher at the league meet last year, and Kevin Anderson both graduated.It sounds weird, because losing those two guys is a real blow to the team, Ward says, but we actually could be a little bit better this year, in terms of team success.This year, we might not battle for first place individually, but the time spread between our one and five runners will be better.The Cougar boys, with Becker, Anderson et al, qualified for the West Central District meet last year, but things didn't go at all well for them once they arrived at Spanaway Lake Park. It was a good learning experience, Ward says, for those of them that return this year.We're going to run more with team goals in mind, Ward says. I'd like to see us come together as a team and improve from last year. I'm hoping that, at least in terms of the 4A teams, we can be in the top two or three.That won't be easy, since the No. 1 spot has been conceded to Port Angeles, and none of the other 4A teams are a stroll in the park. The Cougars' key will be to not lose anything by accident, by taking an opponent or a particular course lightly.It's all in how you run each time you go out, Ward says. Last year, in our tri-meet with them, we got beat by North Kitsap. They ran a good race and we didn't. Then, at the league meet, we ran much better and we more or less slaughtered them.It's like the old adage that on any given day, any team can beat any other team, he says. Well, we can't afford to get beaten because we didn't run our best on any given day.The Cougars can expect stiff competition from Olympic, particularly on the girls side - where Oly returns a strong nucleus including Megan Walker-Richards, last year's fifth-place league finisher, and veterans Julia Corbett and Heather McColl. On the boys side, seniors Phil Borrelli and Christian Walker-Richards will provide a veteran presence to a team that finished one slot out of a district berth last year.Bremerton's girls will be led by senior Josie Lavin, who ran third in the league meet last year before earning a state invitation as an individual. The Knights' boys should be stronger in terms of numbers, headed up by junior Mike Stitt and sophomore Joe Miller.Klahowya's battles have been of a more modest nature - the Eagles were unable in their first three seasons to field a full team, let alone challenge traditional power Port Townsend for Class 2A honors. But the turnout this year, according to coach Marty Krafcik, was more than a dozen, showing that the program is headed in the right direction. "

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