Sports

Raider girls ready to run after a state title

The Thomas Jefferson girls cross country team doesn’t rebuild — it reloads.

Over the past six years, the Raiders have been the class of the South Puget Sound League. During that time, Jefferson has claimed six straight SPSL division titles and compiled an amazing 50-1 record in dual meets.

But that one loss came Wednesday afternoon in TJ’s SPSL North Division opener to the Tahoma Bears in Maple Valley. The Bears had three runners finish in the top five to down the Raiders, 23-32. The loss snapped a six-year unbeaten run by Jefferson through the SPSL and immediately pushed Tahoma to the top of the league title chase.

Despite Wednesday’s dual meet loss to Tahoma, this year should be another solid one for the Raiders.

“This team has a lot of state experience and should be competitive at the league, district and state level,” said head coach Paul Ruston.

But there is a problem that comes along with the recent success of the TJ girls cross country program. The expectations are sometimes out of whack with reality, and that can put an unneeded amount of pressure on the athletes on the Raider cross country team.

“The difficulty is inherent in maintaining being one of the best teams in the state,” Ruston said.

But, even Ruston will admit, that’s not too bad of a problem to have. The higher than normal expectations basically mean that your program is one of the best around year in and year out, and that’s exactly the case at Jefferson.

Over the past three seasons, the TJ girls cross country program has put together the best run by a South Puget Sound League school in the history of the league. The team finished in fourth place at the 2004 Class 4A State Championships and followed that with a third-place finish in 2005.

Last year, the Raiders took another step forward and ended up as the second-best team in Washington, as well as claiming the individual state champion in now-graduated Kenna Patrick. Curtis High School previously held the best three-year run by an SPSL team when the team finished in fourth place at state from 1991 through 1993.

All that’s left for the Raiders is to stand atop the podium in Yakima at the state meet, and that’s a possibility this season.

Jefferson brings back five of its top-seven runners from last season and all five of them were either first- or second-team All SPSL performers.

Leading the list is junior Vanessa Bennum. As a sophomore, Bennum finished in 16th place at the state meet and is the top returning runner in from the SPSL, after finishing third at the 2006 league meet.

Also returning are first-team, All-SPSLers Cassidy Robey (27th at 2006 state meet) and Camryn Patrick (33rd at state), along with junior Rosemary Angeles (73rd) and Jody Baughman. The Raiders will also be helped by newcomers Lacey Printz, Monica Jaenicke and freshman Brianna Calvieri.

“(Calvieri) is among the very best freshmen our team has had,” Ruston said.

The Raiders proved they have a solid roster in 2007 when they went down to the ultra-prestigious 27th annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Irvine, Calif., last weekend. Jefferson finished in 42nd place out of 166 of the best cross country teams in the Western United States.

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