LBHS cross-country teams aim high again
The 2019 season will be a year of reloading, rebuilding and re-defending a state championship for the Liberty Bell High School cross-country program, as both the boys and girls look to extend their respective streaks of statewide success in the 2B class of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
The boys will be working toward a tenth consecutive state meet qualification and appearance, while the girls look to run their streak of state championships to four, and their appearances at the state meet in Pasco to five.
Graduation has hurt the boys over the past two years and head coach Erik Brooks finds himself doing some rebuilding this year. Brooks will be reloading the girls after some movement of families, graduations and the winter successes of three-time state champion Novie McCabe.
McCabe will be passing on her senior year to train as a member of the U.S. Ski Team while two athletes return after injuries last year, and a transfer returns to full eligibility this year.
The accomplishments of the girls’ program over the past four years have placed them among the elite in the 2B classification. They are tied for third on the all-time list of 2B champions with three. A fourth title this year would be only the second time a B-class girls program has won four straight championships, and only the third B team to ever win four. St. George’s (Spokane) has won five titles over a span of many years, while Northwest Christian (Lacey) won nine consecutive from 2006-2014.
Returning after a year off to recover from a series of non-running injuries, the only senior in the entire program, co-captain Gretta Scholz, is rested and ready. When asked if she intends to pick up where she left off, a big grin spread across her face. “I hope so,” she said. Her last race as a Mountain Lion was second place at state in 2017, behind teammate McCabe.
Joining her as a co-captain is junior Lindsay Worrell, who will compete for one of the seven varsity spots. Also returning from last year’s injury list is junior Liv Aspholm, who ran very strong as a freshman in 2017, then had to sit last year with a stress fracture. Junior Greta Laesch looks to make an immediate contribution. She was ineligible to run varsity races last year as a transfer from 3A Garfield, but is now fully eligible and, at the JV level was running times very competitive with the varsity athletes.
The impressive junior class is completed by Keeley Brooks, who just gets stronger with every race and is coming off an impressive track and field season last spring. Sophomore Jori Grialou, who was ninth individually at state last year, will be a strong contributor and hopes to repeat her appearance on the podium at Pasco in November. Junior Lena Nelson and incoming freshman Stella Scholz will also compete for the top seven varsity spots this year.
On the boys’ side, junior co-captains Travis Grialou and Ian De Long lead a young and eager group of Mountain Lions in quest of their tenth straight state appearance. Grialou, who ran his strongest race of his career in Pasco last year, leading Liberty Bell to an 11th-place team finish with his 18th-place overall finish, is joined by returning junior De Long as the early lead runners. Sophomore Cooper Legler could also make contributions. Several strong junior high runners are stepping up to the varsity this year, with Isaiah Stoothoff looking to make noise early on.
Liberty Bell may well have a unique distinction in Washington high school sports with two sets of twins in the freshman class. Graham and Carter Sheley, and Tristan and Jackson Schmekel join the high school team this year, all of them showing strong in the junior high circuit last year.
A good summer
Coach Brooks carries his usual enthusiastic optimism for both programs. For starters, the summer running program was well attended and uninterrupted by wildfires and smoke this year, as well as fall practices. He was pleased that the Lions have been able to run outside every day since fall practice opened on Aug. 26, taking advantage of local trails and roads to get in those important pre-season miles. He expresses excitement for the possibilities before the girls, while believing the youth movement in the boys’ program will continue to improve and achieve some great things this year.
“We had a number of runners who worked very hard this summer,” the coach said.
It is a rebuilding year for Liberty Bell to be sure, and some early meets will provide a glimpse as to what might be in store. On Sept. 14 the teams open the season at the Sehome Invite in Bellingham. They follow with a Sept. 21 date at the Wenatchee Invite where we get our first look at some local competition, including District 5’s Tri-Cities Prep and local teams from Brewster, Tonasket, Manson and Lake Roosevelt.
While the Mountain Lion girls are favored to repeat as league and district champions, the boys have the challenge of growing programs at Manson, Tonasket and Brewster that have provided tough competition recently.
The Nike Twilight in Marysville on Oct. 5 will feature the first showdown between Liberty Bell and Northwest Christian-Lacey, two schools that split state titles in 2016 and 2017, the Navigator boys placing first and Liberty Bell boys second both years, while the two schools flipped the table in the girls’ races.
Other races include Okanogan on Sept. 24, Omak on Oct. 9, the Nike “Hole In the Wall” meet at Lakewood on Oct. 12, the league championships at Liberty Bell on, tentatively, Oct. 26, the District 5 and 6 state qualifier Oct. 30, and the state meet on Nov. 9.