By Don Nelson
Coming off a fourth-place finish at last year’s state championship cross-country meet, the Liberty Bell High School boys’ team is aiming for another successful year with a strong group of returning runners.
Meanwhile, the girls’ team will be boosted by greater numbers this year, according to coach Craig Herlihy.
Altogether, there are more than 40 runners on the Liberty Bell roster, representing grades 7-12, about evenly split between boys and girls.
“It’s the largest turnout I’ve ever seen,” Herlihy said. “It’s real exciting.”
Herlihy is especially pleased with the number of seventh- and eight-graders who came out, particularly on the girls’ side. “They can do some amazing things,” he said.
“Our goal is to grow the girls’ program,” Herlihy said. “We’re getting there.”
Herlihy said that assistant coach Erik Brooks has been helpful in drawing younger runners into the program. And “the kids are seeing the recent success at state” as an incentive, the coach said.
Like the football and soccer teams, cross-country had limited outdoor practice time because of smoke that smothered the valley. “We were running in the halls [at the high school],” Herlihy said. “It didn’t hurt us that much. A lot of the high school kids had a good summer base of conditioning.”
Improved weather conditions should help the Mountain Lions prepare for their first competition, this Saturday (Sept. 12) at the Moses Lake Invitational.
Last year marked the Mountain Lions’ best state finish since 2001, when Liberty Bell placed second at state.
The most notable returning runner for the boys is senior Ben Klemmeck, who finished fourth at the state meet last year. “He’s reliable, consistent and mentally strong,” the coach said.
Also returning from that fourth-place team is sophomore Eli Nielsen, who finished 22nd at the state championships. “He was the fastest freshman in the state last year,” Herlihy said of Nielsen.
Junior Carter Dornfeld is another veteran who will score points for Liberty Bell this year, Herlihy said.
The rest of the boys’ varsity team is young — mostly ninth-graders. Among them, look for Peter Aspholm and Emerson Worrell to have a good year, Herlihy said.
Herlihy said the Mountain Lions run smart, strategic races, not going out too fast and positioning themselves for a strong finish. Training is intended to peak for the state meet, the coach said.
Invitational meets, which usually include schools larger than Liberty Bell, “are good gauges of progress along the way,” Herlihy said.
The Mountain Lions are also known for their good sportsmanship. “It’s easy to do,” Herlihy said. “It’s part of who we are.”
Liberty Bell will once again host the B league district championships on Oct. 24.