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Harriers gear up for run at zone title

Donnie Nelson

It’s an exciting and nervous time for the Douglas High School cross country program.

Never before has the program had so much talent, depth and experience. And, never before has it been so balanced.

The girls team is the favorite heading into the Class 4A Northern Zone championship Thursday at Reed in Sparks and the boys team also has a legitimate shot of finishing in the top four of the 13-team field and earning a spot in next week’s state meet. The opportunity is there for both teams to accomplish something special, and that makes the meet all together even more nerve wracking.

“I hope they want it as much as I do,” Douglas co-coach Ellen Lucas said. “There are a few nagging injuries but nothing major.”

The girls team has an outstanding core up front. Juniors Kathleen McSweeney, Annie Gastelum, Kelly Mogab and Jenny Smokey have been consistently spectacular all season.

“Those four have been really incredible this year,” Lucas said. “If those four run really strong and we get a No. 5 runner up there..We should win it. It kind of depends how our No. 5 runner does and how everybody holds together on the big day.”

Last year, the Tigers finished in a tie for fifth (but were bumped down to sixth, officially, because of a tie-breaker at the No. 6 runner) with 149 points, just one point out of fourth. This year, the Tigers have gone through the league season undefeated and have, at times, simply dominated the competition.

However, there are about seven schools which all have a fighting shot at a state-meet berth and the title. Carson, Reed, McQueen, South Tahoe, Galena and Reno all have the potential to come up big on the right day.

“You never know how it is going to go,” Lucas said. “If we just run confidently and rely on our past experience…”

McSweeney has been the team’s top finisher in all but one race.

“She’s got so much strength and mental toughness that she’s usually able to get through it without being challenged,” Lucas said.

There are at least four runners which could be called co-favorites for the individual title heading into Thursday.

“I’m excited,” McSweeney said. “I like the course. There are certain parts where I try to stay focused. There are always people I want to keep up with but I have to run my own race. I just want to know when I’m done that I did my best.

“We can get our top five girls in the top 20 to 25,” McSweeney added. “I think that’s our main goal.”

Gastelum seems to be peaking at the right time. She was the team’s top finisher last week in the final meet of the regular season.

“Annie has been running really strong,” Lucas said. “But so is Kelly and Jenny.”

Jenelle Timmons, Melissa Feddish and Melissa Riley will all try to be that all-important No. 5 scoring runner.

On the boys side, Luke Rachal is hoping at least to qualify for the state meet as an individual. The top five finishers not on a qualifying team earn a spot in the state race, which is scheduled for Nov. 8 back at Reed.

“My goal is to make the top five at zone and ultimately make state,” Rachal said. “This week is important. I need to have the right attitude, not think bad thoughts and focus on one race. The course is longer than it seems and the hill makes it worse. But, it’s very noticeable when someone ahead of you is in trouble. I know I can pass them on the uphill or downhill.”

The 5,000-meter course includes stretches of pavement and trail, and one sizeable hill.

Andy Patrick, Jayson Scheetz, Jeff Coulam, Jared Petersen, Bryan Sullivan and Jeremy Chandler will try to give Rachal enough support to qualify for the state meet as a team. The team is also coached by Dan Makley.