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West Valley girls cross country team managing expections

John Moir expected to see a big jump in popularity in his girls cross country program after winning West Valley’s third state championship last fall.

Success breeds success, right?

That’s the way it worked when Moir was coaching the sport at Archbishop Murphy in Everett.

But success never has worked that way with the Eagles.

“Otis said it was that way for him, too,” Moir said of longtime coach Jim McLachlan. “If you can’t get kids to come out for him, I don’t know what you can do.”

The school is proud of the team – no doubt about that. But soccer and volleyball remain a significantly bigger draw for prospective athletes than cross country.

As a result, this summer of training as the Eagles prepare to defend that State Class 2A state title has been a struggle with attrition.

Of the seven girls who ran at state, Moir lost two to graduation and another to the drama program. A fourth switched from spring track to playing tennis and is just now getting back to running.

And a fifth, Emma Garza, is still struggling with the congenital hip injury that slowed her all of last season.

“She’s going to need surgery no matter what,” Moir said. “She’s going to run and between physical therapy, a cortisone shot and as much cross-training as we can do, we’re going to try and keep her patched together. I’m hopeful that we can get her through the league season.

“I so much want to be able to hand her that fourth letter for making it through all four years because there is no one who has sacrificed more to get there than she has.”

The key to West Valley’s success, three state meet finishes in three seasons, including a second-place finish two years ago and last year’s state title, has been its pack mentality.

“Two years ago the English department had everybody read the book, “The Boys in the Boat,” and there are so many great coaching tips in that book,” Moir said. “I got a copy of it and read it and annotated it and so did the rest of the girls.

“After that I kind of threw away the stopwatch and stopped timing our overall finish and instead we started timing our intervals between our No. 1 runner and our No. 5. We’re not going to have the same 58-second spread we had last year, partly because our No. 1, Annika Esvelt, has gotten so much faster over the summer. But our spread between No. 2 and No. 5 should be pretty good.”

Esvelt just missed setting the school record in the 2-mile during the track season in the spring and is gunning to improve on her 15th-place state meet finish last fall.

The biggest upside from winning the state title last year, especially the way the Eagles won it, is an incredible motivating force for the program.

“Emma got the limelight by being the tiebreaker for us with her sixth-place finish,” Moir said. “But she wouldn’t have gotten the chance to be the tiebreaker if (senior) Sydney Stone hadn’t kicked hard in the last hundred meters. She’d been running with Emma, side by side, and I told them one or the other was going to have to make a move and she did.

“When it’s that close of a race, every single runner contributed to the win. If they finished one place farther back, Emma couldn’t have been the tiebreaker, and we would have finished second again.”

Moir said he spent a good deal of time trying to tamp down expectations a year ago after the team placed second. Still, he said, outside forces – parents and friends and fans – insisted that since they’d been second as sophomores they should win state as juniors.

This year’s attrition should help tamp down expectations of a repeat, but Moir is confident the team can get back to the state meet.

Mikayla Davis has been a varsity runner when she’s healthy.

“It’s not a matter of her conditioning that’s the problem,” Moir said. “She does triathlons, and she’s been pretty burned out by the time cross country comes around after doing a summer full of triathlons.

“We already know how good we are as a team. We just need to get through the season the best way we can and get back to the state meet. The one thing we know about the state meet is that once you get there, anything can happen.”