After coming up just short of a state title last year, the Bellarmine Prep girls cross country team is locked and loaded for another run this year. Returning six of the seven runners from the squad that placed second at the state meet last year, the Lions are picking up right where they left off.
“Our goal is to win state this year,” said senior captain Daryl Phill, who led the Lions’ girls to a win against Stadium and Foss at Wright Park on Sept. 19 by running the 5,000-meter race in 19 minutes and 55 seconds, along with Hannah Derby. “We have basically the entire team coming back, so that’s really exciting.”
Phill and Derby lead the Lions’ deep squad that also returns juniors Jordan Thurston, Hayley Hustead and Rachel Hale and senior Zoe Willis. Adding to that is the solid group of underclassmen that are showing solid potential early in the season.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge because there are so many gals that could run varsity for us,” said Bellarmine head coach Matt Ellis. “I tell them all the time it’s kind of like we’re running with two varsity teams right now.”
Derby and Phill both finished in the top 25 individually at the state meet last year, but the Lions know they will have a tough challenge from state champ Tahoma, who returns their top three finishers.
“We just need to focus better,” said Phill, who followed the performance on Sept. 19 with a personal best time of 18 minutes and 43.67 seconds in leading the Lions at the Bellevue High School Invitational on Sept. 22. “I feel like we just kind of intimidated ourselves last year a little bit. We have a much better team dynamic this year I think…that will help a lot.”
Ellis added that last years’ experience was a positive one for his squad, and should only give them confidence heading into the stretch run this year.
“They really used that to motivate them in the summer in preparation for the season,” Ellis said. “We have a saying that when fall starts, the season’s half over. They did their work for the first half of the season.”
The Lions’ boys are also showing early promise, returning seniors Tom Bolt and Tavin Jensen and junior Quentin Purtzer off of the squad that placed 10th at the state meet last year. Purtzer finished first individually against Stadium and Foss on Sept. 19, running in 17 minutes and 36 seconds, while Bolt and Jensen each finished in 18 minutes and 13 seconds to tie for fourth.
Despite sporting a relatively small squad, the Foss boys are led by senior Riley Bushnell, who finished second overall in finishing in 17 minutes and 49 seconds. Bushnell, who missed out on a chance to qualify for the state meet at the district meet last year by just over 20 seconds, said he is determined to advance this year.
“Last year I just kind of flat-lined and stayed the same,” said Bushnell, who added his goal is “to progress this year and not just stay at the same time.”
And just like the Bellarmine girls, Bushnell is using his experience to motivate him to improve. “I kept the heat sheet from districts and track on my wall. Since I was seeded last, that kind of provides motivation. Every time I leave my room, on my door I see it.”