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No, it’s not “Survivor.”
But cross country hinges in part on the individual’s ability to outwit, outplay and outlast his or her competition. OK, and outrun.
It’s a misconception, however, that cross country is all about the individual.
Look at the Central Kitsap cross country roster and the notion of team, of unity — of family — is as clear as the finish line. There are five pairs of siblings on the Cougar roster, and each one of them claims that having a brother or sister on the team helps them perform.
“It’s just pushing each other and encouraging each other,” said CK’s Shane Moskowitz, whose sister, Shannon, joins him on the roster.
Shane and Shannon are household names in and around CK, holding the best times for their respective boys and girls teams.
But four additional sibling pairs join Shane and Shannon on the Cougar roster, adding an element to this team that few other teams possess: It’s like a big family, literally.
“I think cross country is one of the closest sports you can have, we’re pretty close to each other,” said Julianne MacLennan, whose brother, Cullen, also is on the roster.
Each Cougar sibling relationship is a little different. Shane and Shannon encourage each other. Twin brothers John and James Mackovjak go mano-a-mano, using each other for motivation. Freshman Kelsey Ricco admires the work ethic of her older brother, senior Grant Ricco. Julianne and Cullen draw from the experiences of their third sibling, Quinton, who graduated from CK in 2006. Freshman Michael Thorsen learns from his older brother, junior Andrew Thorson.
“I didn’t know there were so many,” Julianne said of the siblings.
“I think our whole team is like a family, so we don’t really notice,” Shannon added.
Each sibling has his or her own take on the family dynamic, some more outspoken than others, some more amused than others.
“I’m just proud of her because she’s gotten a lot better over the years,” Shane said of Shannon, who placed second in the girls 5K at a Narrows League meet at Fort Steilacoom Park in Tacoma on Tuesday. “It’s not really a competition between each other and placing (higher).”
“He pushes me all the time, he pushes me to be better,” Shannon replied.
Shane is more passionate about cross country than Shannon, they agreed, so running often becomes Moskowitz dinner-table talk.
“I do it because I love it, so I talk about it all the time,” Shane said.
For John and James, cross country is no different than swimming, soccer or track — sports they also play together.
“It’s always been a competition, even in school,” James said.
The Mackovjaks, juniors, are new to cross country and find it more challenging than most sports, but they believe reaching the state meet is an achievable goal.
“This is our first year doing cross country, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” John said. “It’s a lot more pain for a lot longer time.”
“We’re both gunning for state,” James added.
Kelsey also is new to the sport, but she simply wants to improve.
“I think in the case of Grant and I it’s not so much time that’s important for us, but work ethic,” she said. “I see him working hard and that makes me want to work hard and work up to my brother’s standards.”
Grant, who broke his arm in a soccer game but continues to run at meets, swallows his pride and acknowledges Kelsey is a solid runner.
“I don’t need to guide her at all because she’s better than me,” he explained. “I obviously love to run, but I’m not necessarily the fastest.”
Coach John Emery recognizes the family ties on the roster but believes it is important to separate each athlete and treat them as individuals.
“Actually, I coach each one as an individual,” he said. “I don’t really think of them as brothers or sisters because each one is so different. Whether they are related or not, they are not the same.”
That’s what Emery’s job boils down to; finding what works for each individual runner.
“Whether you’re talking about Shane and Shannon — they run differently, they have different mental attitudes. Or if you’re talking about Grant and Kelsey, or the twins — John and James are not identical in their apprach toward running and each one needs something a little different,” Emery said. “You ignore the sibling factor and look at them as individuals when you’re coaching them.”
While Emery’s approach is to treat each athlete individually, he said he believes it is important to promote the idea of “family” across the entire roster.
“Every one of them, as I tell them, become my adopted son or daughter. We put that out at the very beginning (of the season),” he said. “As time goes on, you develop a very close relationship with each athlete, We’re a close knit group, there’s no two ways about it.”
Five sibling pairs is more than Emery remembers ever having — he has coached at CK for nine years, including five as head coach — and he embraces the dynamic.
“They’re just fun to coach, every one of them is an enjoyment,” he said.
“I think having a brother or sister on the team helps everybody else encourage you ... I think it does help,” Shane added. “We are all very close.”
The Narrows League Championship is Wednesday at Fort Steilacoom, a course Emery is confident his team is ready to run.
“They got a good preview of the course,” Emery said of last Tuesday’s meet. “They just have to stay mentally focused and that’s what they did Tuesday.”
Shane won the boys 5K this past Tuesday with a time of 15 minutes, 58 seconds and is expected to compete for the individual league title Wednesday.
Alyssa Andrews, of Gig Harbor, won the girls 5K with a time of 18:01, just ahead of Shannon, who finished at 18:41.
The boys finished second in the team competition with 54 points, as did the girls with 81 points.