Wednesday, September 14, 2005

300 prep runners descend on S.V. Gun Club

Thinclads sample district course

Express Staff Writer

Wood River teammates Ashley Rendahl, left, and Tess Dahlgren approach the finish of the girl's varsity race in the Wood River Invitational at the Sun Valley Gun Club last Thursday. Rendahl edged out Dahlgren to finish 10th with a time of 23:45. Dahlgren crossed the finish a second later to finish 11th.

With sweat dripping off her chin and her lungs gasping for air, Stephanie Johnson took a deep breath before letting out a clipped sigh.

"Ohh ... that was the toughest course I've ever run," Johnson said, referring to the Sun Valley Gun Club cross-country course, where 13 high schools, including a handful of 5A powerhouses, competed in the Wood River Invitational last Thursday. All told, about 300 runners participated.

Johnson, from Burley High, handily won the girls varsity race with a time of 21 minutes, 35 seconds.

While Johnson's time was breezy, the course is anything but.

"You go up a hill and when you go down there's another hill, and then there's another hill, and another," Johnson laughed. "But that's what makes it fun."

Meanwhile, from the growing crowd of racers at the finish, an anonymous voice shouted, "Holy crap, I've never run so hard in my life."

The difficulty of the 3.1-mile hilly, dusty, hole-filled, bullet-shell-littered course was a hot topic at the invitational, which made a triumphant return to Sun Valley after a year hiatus.

"It was difficult," said Chio Lopez, of Century High, who won the boy's varsity race in 17:30. "But I like it, it's a lot better than running back and forth on grass."

Lopez's teammate Bennett Grimes finished second. Both Century athletes also play soccer.

"We run cross country then we go to soccer practice," Grimes said about their rigorous daily routine.

Wood River High's top performer was Taylor Sundali, who finished second in the boy's junior varsity race with a time of 19:28. Fellow Wolverine JV racer Geraldo Garcia finished 12th in 20:42. In an odd twist, both Sundali and Garcia actually ran faster than Wood River's top varsity performer, Nick Purdy, who ran a 20:54.

"These are phenomenal times for kids who just came out in the last couple weeks," said Wood River head coach, Joel Zellers. "These two kids just earned a spot, possibly, on the varsity team."

Zellers wasn't shocked by Sundali's time¾"He's one of the best athletes in the Wood River Valley," he said¾but Garcia was a pleasant surprise.

"We had no idea what to expect, this was his first race of the year," Zellers said. "But he went out extremely hard ... he's going to be on fire now, he'll only get stronger."

The boy's JV team placed third out of seven teams. Behind Purdy on the Wolverines boy's varsity was Bryce Moulton (21:29), Cole Wells (21:48), Kyle Niedrich (22:47), and J.D. Hill (24:04). The team finished ninth out of 10. Mountain View High School took top honors.

The Wolverines girl's varsity team had a stronger performance, placing fifth overall with solid races from Ashley Rendahl (23:45) and Tess Dahlgren (23:46), who finished 10th and 11th, respectively. Mountain View took top honors in the girl's varsity race.

Rendahl was particularly pleased with her finish, "because Tess is so good," she said.

Rosie Gilchrist, a freshman who just moved to the valley from England, finished 23rd overall with a time of 24:57. She was followed by Meggie Cordovano (27:29), and Trish McLaughlin (30:18).

"They ran exceptionally well," Zellers said about his girl's varsity team. "They're such a young group of kids¾ it's incredible how well they did competing against 5A schools."

Meggie Rose anchored the Wood River girl's JV team with a time of 29:44 to finish 23rd overall.

"She kicked butt," Zellers said. "What that does is it puts her at my fifth runner for varsity ... as long as she does well this week."

Getting boosted to the varsity level is determined purely by a runner's practice times.

Aimee Loudenslager (32:28) and Kortnee King (34:41) followed Rose. There aren't enough Wood River girls to officially form a team at the JV level.

Mountain View, a class 5A school from the Boise area, stole the show Thursday night, winning both varsity races.

"We're strong, my girls are super strong," said Mountain View head coach Tracy Harris, who used to coach with Zellers at Meridian High School.

Harris said he always takes advantage of the opportunity to run the Gun Club's course.

"It's a tough course, a brutal course," he said. "It's a great meet¾the cream of the crop."

The Gun Club will also serve as the site of the district championships on Oct. 22, and the gateway to the 4A state championships at Eagle Island on Oct. 29.

"That's what we will be training for," Zellers said, referring to the districts.

Zellers added that the Gun Club course is one of the state's best, and without the support of the club and volunteers the race "would not take place."

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