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After seven seasons as a college coach, Luke Samford (left) takes over the Coupeville High School cross country program. (Photos property Kansas Wesleyan University Athletic Department)

Samford ran in college at the University of Idaho.

It could be kismet.

A year back in the game, the Coupeville High School cross country squad found itself without a coach this spring when Natasha Bamberger had to step aside to focus on her real-world job.

Following in the (fast) footsteps of the most-successful female athlete in school history, a five-time state champ in the ’80s, wasn’t going to be easy.

But then the Wolves lucked out a bit.

Luke Samford, a former D1 athlete with seven years of collegiate coaching experience under his belt, popped up on the radar unexpectedly, and Coupeville was back in business.

One second, you’re the head track and cross country coach at Kansas Wesleyan University, the next you’re headed to the prairie on the middle of a rock in the water in the Pacific Northwest.

“My wife and I decided we wanted to relocate,” Samford said. “Since I was raised in North Idaho, we decided to look at places in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

“She was offered a great opportunity, and I followed,” he added. “The coaching position at Coupeville coming open right before we packed up feels like fate. It’s exactly what I was looking for.”

Samford inherits a program which relaunched in 2018 after a two-decade absence.

Under Bamberger, the new-look Wolves fielded a six-man boys team, while Catherine Lhamon and Alana Mihill ran strongly on the girls side.

Five of eight runners from a season ago can return, and there could be a strong number of freshmen making the jump from middle school, where coach Elizabeth Bitting got things kick-started with a bang.

Samford is looking forward to jumping in and keeping the momentum going.

“It’s a new program, and I have experience taking over fresh programs,” he said. “I also went to a school not too much bigger than Coupeville, so I like that the school is a community in and of itself.

“Also, (CHS Athletic Director) Willie Smith really sold me on his vision for athletics in Coupeville in general,” Samford added. “It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”

Samford began his own athletic career as a soccer player, eventually making an international squad based out of the Northwest as a 16-year old.

Looking for a way to stay active, stay in shape, and build speed, he picked up track in high school “and loved it,” eventually earning medalist honors at the 3A level in Idaho in the 800 and 1600.

After his high school days, he balanced soccer and track for a year at Southwestern Oregon Community College, before transferring to The University of Idaho as a runner.

Samford earned a Master’s in Education (he’d love to find a teaching job in the area), and jumped when the chance to coach came along.

Stints at Kennesaw State University, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Mercer University led to his gig at Kansas Wesleyan.

All of his stops were notable for the improvement the programs showed during his tenure, the number of records smashed, and the growth of his athletes. That’s something he wants to bring to the high school level.

“For this first year, our goal is going to be to set a standard and establish the running culture of the school,” Samford said. “It’s amazing to see how many runners the team had in its first year last year.

“It needs to be said that the middle school program has done a great job of this,” he added. “I can see they are running this summer doing a marathon relay!”

However his new crop of runners eventually breaks down between genders and age groups, Samford is excited to help them reach their full potential.

“I’m here to make sure every athlete on my teams have a great experience,” he said. “I know there is some talent on the team right now, and with the right mindset, I think the Wolf cross country programs this year are going to be exciting to watch.

“I can’t wait to meet everyone and get started!”

Just be ready to work, and the rest will come, is the mindset for Coupeville’s newest coach.

“To the athletes – I hope you like hills … because I love them,” Samford said with a smile.

“There’s a reason Washington state is known for runners,” he added. “I’m excited to show these athletes all of the great things they are going to learn about themselves this season!

“As a coach, I am always trying to research and learn new things; I think this sport is FASCINATING! Hopefully some of that can rub off on the athletes and they see, “Hey! Learning is actually pretty cool.”

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Helen Strelow flies through the air while competing in the long jump. (Morgan White photo)

Helen Strelow couldn’t be stopped.

As she neared the end of her middle school days this spring, she nailed PR’s in two of her three events at the Cascade League Track and Field Championships.

Strelow saved her best performances in the 800 and long jump for that final meet, while also performing strongly in the discus.

Overall, she prospered under pressure the way every coach hopes their athletes will respond on the big stage.

Now, buoyed by that sweet swan song, she’s off to the next level.

Life as a freshman student/athlete at Coupeville High School awaits her this fall, and Strelow plans to keep running for team glory and personal accomplishment.

She’ll kick off a new school season with cross country, then return to track and field in the spring, keeping alive her status as a dual-threat.

Strelow was a strong competitor on a CMS cross country squad which helped bring the sport back to Coupeville after a two-decade absence, and she and the sport immediately meshed.

“I really enjoy cross country, because everyone is so nice and happy,” she said. “I enjoy running. It makes me happy, reduces stress, and I enjoy being part of a team.

“My parents encouraged me to join cross country and supported me,” she added. “Coach (Elizabeth) Bitting pushes me to run faster, as did my team.”

When she’s not out on the trails or hanging out at the track oval, Strelow can often be found creating new masterpieces in a variety of art forms.

“I am primarily interested in the arts,” she said. “I like drawing, building, reading/writing, and listening/playing music.

“I spend my time experimenting with the arts I love.”

Strelow also enjoys spending time with family, and hails Mary Poppins, Man from U.N.C.L.E, and John Wayne’s Hatari! as her favorite movies.

As she prepares for the move from middle school to high school, she’s been working on fine-tuning her skills. That includes attending the recent Falcon Running Camp at Fort Casey.

“I think one of my strengths is being able to realize what I have done wrong or right and how to make corrections,” Strelow said. “I need to work on pacing myself better.

“I would like to get higher placings and reach my full potential as an athlete.”

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Hayden Harry was on the move Saturday as he and his CMS cross country mates ran the marathon relay at Race the Reserve. (Morgan White photos)

The Porter boys (one is Jack, one is Johnny, and I won’t pretend I can tell them apart yet) are here to break all your records.

A quick exchange in the rain, as the Wolves team up to take down their 26.2 mile opponent.

A part of the bright future of Coupeville athletics.

Cole White is swallowed up by the rain-soaked undergrowth.

“You old guys are never going to catch me!”

Soaked, tired, but triumphant.

The future is a bright one.

Entering year two of the rebirth of cross country at Coupeville schools, middle school coach Elizabeth Bitting had not one, but two, marathon relay teams take part in Saturday’s Race the Reserve.

Wolves Hayden Harry, Andrew Williams, Cole White, Hank Milnes, Ayden Wyman, George Spear, Jack Porter, Aiden O’Neill, Johnny Porter, Chase Anderson, and Tate Wyman teamed up to tear across the prairie, piling up 26.2 miles per team.

Dodging rain drops as they ran, the young Coupeville harriers offered proof the future of Cow Town athletics is a bright one.

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CHS volleyball ace Maya Toomey-Stout returns for her senior season. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

James Wood (left) and Mason Grove are among the netters who can return this fall.

There’s less than seven weeks.

We’re still very much in the midst of a Whidbey summer, in all its 55-degree glory, but Coupeville High School fall sports teams start practicing in August, with games launching the first week of September.

As you plan ahead for volleyball, cross country, tennis, soccer, and football, now is the perfect time to peruse the schedules and make some early plans.

As always, changes can, and often do happen, especially for tennis, the one sport which can be drastically affected by rain.

So, keep an eye on the league and/or school web sites as we move forward.

And always bring a coat. Always.

PS — If you haven’t been paying close attention, you may wonder why some sports seem to have radically different foes.

The short breakdown is this – volleyball, cross country, and girls soccer play in Coupeville’s primary league, the North Sound Conference.

But, since CHS and South Whidbey are the only NSC schools to field boys tennis teams, the Wolves and Falcons join theĀ Emerald City League for that sport.

And, finally, football is taking a one-year break from league play and playing an independent schedule while trying to build the program.

PPS — Cross country’s schedule may look a bit off.

Spoiler alert – it is, as the school has yet to post anything resembling a complete schedule on the league site, the school site, or athletic.net.

What’s below is the best I’ve been able to pull together so far.

So, there you go, and as you scan what’s below, a * denotes a league contest.

 

BOYS TENNIS:

Wed-Sept. 11 — South Whidbey (3:30) *
Fri-Sept. 13 — Eastside Prep (3:30) *
Mon-Sept. 16 — @University Prep (3:30) *
Wed-Sept. 18 — @Bush (4:00) *
Fri-Sept. 20 — Overlake (3:30) *
Mon-Sept. 23 — @Bear Creek (4:30) *
Wed-Sept. 25 — Seattle Academy (3:30) *
Fri-Sept. 27 — @South Whidbey (3:30) *
Tues-Oct. 1 — @Eastside Prep (3:30) *
Wed-Oct. 2 — University Prep (3:30) *
Fri-Oct. 4 — Bush (3:30) *
Mon-Oct. 7 — @Overlake (4:00) *
Wed-Oct. 9 — Bear Creek (3:30) *
Mon-Oct. 14 — @Seattle Academy (3:45) *

 

CROSS COUNTRY:

Sat-Sept. 14 — @Sehome Invitational (4:00)
Sat-Sept. 21 — @South Whidbey Invite (TBA)
Thu-Oct. 10 — @South Whidbey (4:00)
Sat-Oct. 12 — @Nike Hole in the Wall Invitational (Lakewood) (TBA)
Thu-Oct. 17 — @King’s (4:00)
Sat-Oct. 26 — @North Sound Conference Championships (Lakewood) (TBA)
Sat-Nov 2 — @Districts (South Whidbey) (10:00)

 

FOOTBALL:

Fri-Sept. 6 — Port Townsend (6:00)
Fri-Sept. 13 — @Vashon Island (6:00)
Fri-Sept. 20 — @Friday Harbor (6:30)
Fri-Sept. 27 — LaConner (7:00)
Sat-Oct. 5 — @Kittitas (3:00)
Fri-Oct. 11 — @Northwest Christian (7:00)
Fri-Oct. 18 — South Whidbey (7:00)
Fri-Oct. 25 — Anacortes (TBA)
Fri-Nov. 1 — @Interlake (7:00)

 

GIRLS SOCCER:

Sat-Sept. 7 — Meridian (1:00)
Thur-Sept. 12 — @Friday Harbor (TBA)
Tues-Sept. 17 — @King’s (6:00) *
Thur-Sept. 19 — @Sultan (7:00) *
Sat-Sept. 21 — Chimacum (1:00)
Tues-Sept. 24 — Cedar Park Christian (6:00) *
Sat-Sept. 28 — Mount Vernon Christian (1:00)
Tues-Oct. 1 — South Whidbey (6:00) *
Thur-Oct. 3 — @Granite Falls (6:00) *
Tues-Oct. 8 — King’s (6:00) *
Thur-Oct. 10 — @Port Townsend (6:00)
Tues-Oct. 15 — Sultan (6:00) *
Thur-Oct. 17 — @Cedar Park Christian (6:00) *
Mon-Oct. 21 — @South Whidbey (6:00) *
Wed-Oct. 23 — Granite Falls (6:00) *

 

VOLLEYBALL:

Thu-Sept. 12 — @Friday Harbor (TBA)
Tues-Sept. 17 — @Anacortes (7:00)
Sat-Sept. 21 — Chimacum (2:30)
Tues-Sept. 24 — Cedar Park Christian (7:00) *
Sat-Sept. 28 — @South Whidbey Invite (10:00)
Tues-Oct. 1 — South Whidbey (7:00) *
Thur-Oct. 3 — @Granite Falls (7:00) *
Sat-Oct. 5 — @Orcas Island (TBA)
Mon-Oct. 7 — King’s (7:00) *
Wed-Oct. 9 — Sultan (7:00) *
Thur-Oct. 10 — @Port Townsend (6:15)
Tues-Oct. 15 — @Cedar Park Christian (7:00) *
Thur-Oct. 17 — @South Whidbey (7:00) *
Tues-Oct. 22 — Granite Falls (7:00) *
Thur-Oct. 24 — @King’s (7:00) *
Mon-Oct. 28 — @Sultan (7:00) *

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Cole White and fellow Coupeville Middle School athletes kick off fall sports in Sept. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Lauren Marrs and Co. will compete in volleyball, cross country, and, for the first time, boys soccer.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Football is out, and soccer is in, when Coupeville Middle School sports teams return to action this fall.

The CMS gridiron program was cancelled – at least for now – due to increasingly smaller numbers. Last year, the Wolves only played three of the six games they had on the schedule.

Seeing little hope for roster growth, Athletic Director Willie Smith opted to go in a different direction.

Since schools have to offer an equal number of sport programs for male and female athletes, killing football meant CMS had to pick up another boys sport, and did so with soccer.

It was a straight swap (and actually soccer should be cheaper than football), so an already-depleted athletic budget didn’t take any additional hits.

The Wolves will field one girls sport (volleyball), one boys (soccer) and one co-ed (cross country) this fall, with all three programs competing in the Cascade League.

Schedules for each team are below, though changes can always happen.

To stay up to date as the fall plays out, keep an eye on league and school web sites.

 

BOYS SOCCER:

Mon-Sept. 23 — Northshore Christian (3:30)
Wed-Sept. 25 — @Lakewood (3:30)
Mon-Sept. 30 — @Granite Falls (3:30)
Wed-Oct. 2 — @Northshore Christian (3:30)
Mon-Oct. 7 — Lakewood (3:30)
Wed-Oct. 9 — Granite Falls (3:30)
Mon-Oct. 14 — Northshore Christian (3:30)
Wed-Oct. 16 — @Lakewood (3:30)
Mon-Oct. 21 — @Granite Falls (3:30)
Wed-Oct. 23 — Northshore Christian (3:30)

 

CROSS COUNTRY:

Sat-Sept. 21 — @South Whidbey (TBA)
Wed-Sept. 25 — @Lakewood (3:30)
Sat-Sept. 28 — @King’s Invite (TBA)
Thur-Oct. 3 — @Granite Gallop (3:30)
Sat-Oct. 12 — @Hole in the Wall – Lakewood (9:00)
Thur-Oct. 17 — @Sultan (3:30)
Wed-Oct. 23 — @Cascade League Championships – S. Whidbey (3:30)

 

VOLLEYBALL:

Mon-Sept. 23 — @Granite Falls (3:15)
Wed-Sept. 25 — King’s (3:15)
Mon-Sept. 30 — Northshore Christian (3:15)
Thur-Oct. 3 — @South Whidbey (3:15)
Mon-Oct. 7 — @Sultan (3:15)
Wed-Oct. 9 — Lakewood (3:15)
Mon-Oct. 14 — Granite Falls (3:15)
Wed-Oct. 16 — @Northshore Christian (3:15)
Mon-Oct. 21 — South Whidbey (3:15)
Thur-Oct. 24 — @Lakewood (3:15)

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