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Chelsea Chandler, right, running with Shadle Park teammate Kendra Weitz, played on the state-champion volleyball team last season but switched to cross country this season.jesset@spokesman.com (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Sport change suits Shadle’s Chandler

Former volleyball player thrives at cross country

Success tends to follow wherever Chelsea Chandler travels.

The Shadle Park athlete considers basketball her forte. As a sophomore, she was among the team scoring leaders when the Highlanders placed second in state last winter.

She had been a member of the volleyball team and factored in its winning a State 3A championship last fall.

“My family always tells me I had a really good sophomore year,” she said in something of an understatement. “I was on some really awesome teams.”

But volleyball lost its allure, replaced by the appeal of distance running after she timed 11 minutes, 32.88 seconds for 3,200 meters last spring in track.

So this year, Chandler is lending her talents to cross country instead, and the Highlanders are ranked among the best in the nation.

They already had three returning veterans, including two-time state champion Andrea Nelson. Chandler’s arrival coincided with those of Shayle Dezellem from soccer and incoming freshman Kendra Weitz, tripling the Highlanders’ talent level and making them the instant favorite.

On Wednesday the Highlanders completed an unbeaten regular season for their third GSL championship – and first since 1999 – and have been ranked as high as third nationally by a cross country Web site.

“I knew we were going to have a good team with Andrea, Katie (Morris) and Megan (Inman) back,” coach Bob Isitt said. “Then Chelsea decided to drop volleyball and we got another, Shayle, from soccer who decided she liked to run, too.”

Nelson continues to lead the way and has been pushed by the gifted Weitz and Morris. Chandler, Dezellem and Inman aren’t far behind.

It was Chandler’s willingness to run with the leaders that first caught Isitt’s eye.

Chandler said she tried out for track last spring at the behest of friends, just for something to do.

“I tried everything from pole vault to sprints, which was really bad,” she said.

So she approached Shadle’s track distance coach, Isitt, about exploring that possibility.

“I thought she was asking about advanced placement classes,” Isitt said. “She told me, ‘I want to be a distance runner.’ The first couple of warmup runs she was right with our top runners. The third day she was still with us in longer runs.”

In a race against eventual state champion Baylee Mires, Chandler hung with the Mead star for three of four laps. By the end of the year, she had clocked the fifth-fastest Greater Spokane League 3,200 time.

“She is extremely coachable and absolutely tough,” Isitt said. “I guess she just has enjoyed running.”

Isitt’s thoughts were filled with autumn possibilities. The Highlanders didn’t disappoint.

Chandler played volleyball initially as a means to meet people and prepare for basketball. She didn’t expect to make varsity last fall and was mainly a bench warmer.

But circumstances thrust her onto the court, when a player was suspended before state, and into a key role as middle blocker in Kennewick for the championship.

She said it was nerve-wracking and she feared letting people down, but Chandler served eight key points in Shadle’s opening win and led the team in blocks in the second match.

“State was really fun and unlike anything I’d experienced,” she said. “I’d never been to state in a sport before.”

After helping Shadle to the title game in state basketball, she discovered distance running in the spring and faced a fall dilemma.

“It was hard to decide which (sport) I wanted to do more,” Chandler said. “I liked volleyball, but I didn’t love it. I loved running.”

She said she told Highlanders volleyball coach Brooke Cooper last spring that she was thinking of possibly switching to cross country.

“She told me to keep her posted and she was the first one I told,” Chandler said. “She was understanding and knew why I made the decision.”

There were summer conflicts, traveling with basketball and attending church camp, that prevented a total commitment to offseason training. Isitt said she’s still learning the nuances of cross country as opposed to running around a track.

But the first-year cross country runner has times that rank among the best in league.

Shadle begins the postseason Wednesday with district competition at Plantes Ferry Park.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” she said. “When I go to volleyball games, I miss it. But I think I made the right decision.”