TRACK AND FIELD
TRACK AND FIELD
DRAMA & THEATRE
Columbia Falls Links
C/KATS READY TO RUN
September 20, 2010Columbia Falls High School
Columbia Falls cross country has biggest turnout ever
With Senior Back, Wildcats Ready to Run
Columbia Falls cross country coach Richard Menicke presents the athlete of the week award to senior Tessa Cowan during a recent practice. - Craig Moore/For the BeaconBy Myers Reece , 09-17-10 COLUMBIA FALLS - Pascal Jessat didn't have trouble staying in shape for cross country during the offseason. The United States Army made sure of that.
Over the summer, Jessat, a senior at Columbia Falls High School, spent three months in Fort Jackson, S.C. for Army basic training. He's always been a disciplined kid, following a strict running regimen throughout the year, but boot camp took it to another level.
When he arrived back in Columbia Falls, with school already underway, it wasn't really cross country practice that was hard to get used to - it was everything.
"It was crazy coming back and just being back here," Jessat said.
Now that he's home, he is directing that Army-trained focus toward a singular goal: bringing another trophy back to Columbia Falls. Last year, Jessat was a key component of the first team in school history to win a state cross country title.
Jessat's older brother, Patric, and Shawn Whitman graduated, but three of the top five runners from last year's history-making team are back. Along with Jessat, Shawn Whitman's younger brother, Justin, and Derrick Williams should again make the Wildcats a contender in Class A.
Coach Richard Menicke said last year's state title may have inspired other students at the school to try out for cross country. This season, the most kids Menicke has seen in his 15 years at the school showed up for the season: 15 boys and 22 girls.
Menicke, in his second year as head coach, previously was an assistant coach at Columbia Falls. He said the turnout for girls is traditionally much higher than for boys, but even by those standards, 22 is a lot. For boys, 15 is pretty much unheard of.
"It's been really fun and it's presented some new challenges for me," Menicke said of the large turnout.
Among those challenges is identifying seven runners for both boys and girls varsity. Each school sends seven varsity runners to meets. A few kids on each side have proven to be varsity shoo-ins, but the remaining spots are closely contested.
For boys, Williams, Jessat and Whitman will lead the varsity squad. Williams, a junior, is looking to improve on his fifth-place finish at the state meet last season. His goal is to post a sub-16-minute time this season, but he is still recovering from a torn meniscus that occurred in the winter.
"It's sort of been nagging," he said. "But I'm getting there. Building my base back up is the main thing."
Williams said if two more runners emerge to form a strong five-man rotation, the Wildcats should be able to compete with anybody by the end of the season. There's a good chance one of those runners, or both, will be a wrestler.
Menicke said six wrestlers tried out for cross country this season to train for the winter wrestling season. He said wrestlers have come out for the cross country in the past, but never as many as this year. He pointed out that Whitman is also a wrestler.
"The wrestling coaches have been fantastic," Menicke said. "They strongly believe in supporting our program because it helps their program too."
The girls are led by Jinise Osborne, who was the team's top finisher at last year's Class A state meet. She finished 21st, but Menicke said she was competing for an all-state finish until the final mile. All-state is awarded to the top 15 finishers at state.
Osborne, a junior, believes the girls can improve their fifth-place finish from last year's meet. A top-three finish would equal the best ever for the program.
"That would be a very reasonable goal for us," Osborne said. "Coming home with any hardware would be making history."
Menicke said the girls "have a lot of depth." The key is finding the best seven runners on any given week, depending on various circumstances. For example, going into an important meet during the regular season, Menicke said it might make more sense to put an older girl in the race even if a younger one has been scoring better times, so as not to throw the underclassman to the wolves.
Menicke sees the importance of maintaining an upbeat spirit throughout the long season. With 22 runners, he has some room to experiment.
"It's a balancing act of keeping their confidence up," Menicke said.
Confidence shouldn't be a problem for the boys. But even after winning a state title, Williams said the Wildcats feel they have something to prove.
"Hopefully we'll come home with some hardware," Williams said. "I know at our school some people think that us winning was a fluke."