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   In 21 seasons of the 1A state cross country meet being a 5K, no one has run the course as fast as Coupeville’s Tyler King did in 2010. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s a new day on the trail.

As Coupeville High School relaunches its cross country program this fall, it’s the first time in two decades-plus that Wolf harriers have been able to compete without having to train and travel with another school.

So, it would be easy to assume CHS doesn’t have much of a history in the sport.

To which I say, au contraire, mon frère.

The Wolves have two individual state champs in the sport, one of whom, Natasha Bamberger (1985), is the new head coach for the runners.

The other top-of-the-podium finisher was Tyler King, who won the boys crown in 2010.

That’s the most-recent state title for any Wolf, in any sport, but his performance that year stands out for another reason.

Since the WIAA bumped the state meet from three miles to a 5K (3.10686 miles) before the 1997 season, no runner at the 1A level, boy or girl, has covered the ground in Pasco as quickly as King.

He stormed to the title in 15 minutes, 16.9 seconds, blitzing runner-up Todd Jackson of Elma (15:47.5) by half-a-minute.

Between 1997 and 2009, the fastest 1A runner had hit the tape at 15:38, while only two of the seven winners since King graduated have broken 15:30.

Both of those have come in the last two years, with College Place senior Kenneth Rooks coming the closest last fall, when he covered the course in 15:18.8.

While Rooks made a significant run at King’s mark, the former Wolf still stands as the best in 1A through 21 seasons of 5K state meets.

And it almost didn’t happen.

Through the first three years of his prep career, King trained, traveled and COMPETED with Oak Harbor, since Coupeville didn’t have a cross country program.

Facing off with 4A runners, he steadily improved, finishing 98th (17:40) at state as a freshman, 22nd (16:05) as a sophomore and 5th (15:33) as a junior.

Then, OHHS dropped from 4A to 3A and busted up its deal with CHS.

King (and any other Wolves) could still train and travel with the Wildcats.

But, once the postseason began, he broke apart and ran in a Coupeville uniform, returning to the same 1A level he normally competed in during basketball and track.

After that revamped deal was later scotched, Coupeville set up a deal with fellow 1A school South Whidbey, allowing a handful of runners to train and travel with the Falcons, but compete as Wolves.

Now that CHS is back in the game full-time, harriers like Danny Conlisk, who, last fall, was the first Wolf to make it to state since King’s title, can try to build on the legacy he left behind.

A legacy that starts with a record no other 1A runner has touched in 21 seasons.

 

1A boys individual state champs 1997-2017 (the 5K years):

1997 – Ned Miller (Darrington) 16:04.6
1998 – John Russell (Freeman) 15:47
1999 – Todd Arnold (Ocosta) 16:08
2000 – Adam Roe (King’s) 16:47
2001 – Reid Carrell (Freeman) 16:12
2002 – Brandon Thompson (King’s) 16:26
2003 – Tom Wyatt (Charles Wright) 15:38
2004 – Alex Crabill (Charles Wright) 16:09
2005 – Peter Browne (Charles Wright) 16:36
2006 – Rigoberto Jimenez (Royal) 16:17
2007 – Huberto Jimenez (Royal) 16:18
2008 – Quinton Decker (Port Townsend) 15:56
2009 – Bereket Piatt (Port Townsend) 16:10
2010 – Tyler King (Coupeville) 15:16.9
2011 – Hap Emmons (King’s) 15:44
2012 – Dillon Quintana (Mount Baker) 15:50
2013 – Graham Peet (Northwest) 15:50.78
2014 – Ryan Clarke (Port Townsend) 15:37.4
2015 – Tibebu Proctor (Northwest) 15:32.10
2016 – Tibebu Proctor (Northwest) 15:22.3
2017 – Kenneth Rooks (College Place) 15:18.8

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   Natasha Bamberger, a five-time state champ at Coupeville High School in the ’80s, has returned to revive the school’s cross country program. (Photo courtesy Bamberger)

Bamberger with Craig Pedlar, her high school cross country coach, and current Wolf supernova Lindsey Roberts. (Sherry Roberts photo)

She is legend.

Natasha Bamberger isn’t one to toot her own horn, or dwell on her past accomplishments, but I’m here to tell you – there is no bigger name in Coupeville sports history.

The new coach of the CHS cross country team, who is tasked along with CMS harrier coach Elizabeth Bitting to revive a program which has lain largely dormant for two decades, is the real deal.

During her days at Coupeville High School, Bamberger won five state titles, four in track (1600 and 3200 in ’84, 3200 in ’85 and ’86) and became the first Wolf to win a cross country championship when she topped the field in ’85.

Now, after a lifetime of wandering the country, pursuing her passions and raising two highly-accomplished children, she’s back home, ready to inspire the current generation of Wolf runners.

As she prepares for her new job (first day of practice is Aug. 22), Bamberger took time to talk about why running and coaching mean so much to her.

The minute that my life allowed me to be able to coach I did. I always wanted to coach and knew I would.

I volunteered with my local high school cross country team in Vermont.

Within a couple weeks, the Athletic Director gave me the team.

I wanted to coach because literally everything I had accomplished and challenges I faced up to this point in my life — flight school, SERE school, even a war — I attribute to the confidence that running gave me, and especially for the love and time my coaches growing up put into me.

I admired my coaches and wanted to give back what they gave me.

I started out with only eight girls and within three years the team grew to 33.

We were competitive; I was thrilled with their success and we always finished at state in the top four individually as well as the team.

But the biggest gift I was given was a freshman on my team told me and the parents at the banquet dinner at the end of the season was that coach gave her the “love” of running.

I feel this is the most important and a gift to carry you life-long.

As you can imagine, that was quite a moment that I still cherish.

I expected to give to the team from my experience and passion for the sport but they actually inspired me, which I did not expect as a coach.

I am so proud of my runners.

This short four years is so important. I truly believe that they can do anything with the right amount of support.

Many went on to very good colleges and universities, several on cross country scholarships. Two went pro mountain biking.

One met me on the road training and she told me she was going pro Nordic skiing and moving to the Sierra Nevada’s.

She said, “You competed when you were older, Natasha, I can too!”

Through the years, my runners would knock on my door when they came home to go for a run and I felt honored to be invited to their families weddings.

The most amazing thing was these girls inspired me.

I was asked to train with a Eco Challenge team that had competed internationally in Borneo.

I accepted, saying, sure guys, if I can keep up, and it was then I fell in love with ultra running. Especially technical mountain running.

In the next five years I was asked to compete on better and better teams, got sponsored, racing in the Pyrenees, Spain, Newfoundland, Brazil, qualified in Oregon and Western Australia to finish at the World Championships in Gstaad, Switzerland in 2004.

I was the only woman on a four-person team.

I always found it interesting that my coaches in Coupeville always had me run with the boys to push me, which sometimes was not always what I wanted to do.

But, as an adult, I raced and worked with them exclusively in my job flying as a part of an aircrew, ultra running and racing.

When I moved back to Coupeville, I was sad to learn we did not have a team.

I wanted to coach and give back to the sport that gave so much to me.

I have great memories and feel so fortunate to have grown up running on these beautiful trails and roads. I want to share that.

I also feel that cross country attracts a great group of kids. It is a family.

Cross country teaches great lessons in life. How to work hard and see it through to a goal. This builds on itself life-long.

There are amazing opportunities for runners to get scholarships and entry to very good universities and colleges.

Looks great on their applications. I feel employers like to see it as well.

Whatever I can do to help launch these kids during these most important years I want to help and be a part of that.

Cross country is not an easy sport. It takes heart and your whole soul.

Seeing my runners work together, grow as people, get after those opportunities running and beyond is very rewarding.

We are going to have a great season.

We are starting small, but I have been there before and will build a strong, fun program for Coupeville.

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Coupeville Middle School track and cross country coach Elizabeth Bitting leads by example. (Photos courtesy Bitting)

Bitting flies across the course during her high school days in California.

   Mt. San Antonio College and team captain Bitting (second from right, back row) celebrate the school’s first cross country state title.

This is a dream come true for Elizabeth Bitting.

After spending the last four years as the track and field coach at Coupeville Middle School, the dedicated life-long runner will be at the forefront of the Wolves returning to cross country.

A team captain on a state title-winning harrier team in her college days, Bitting brings a lifetime of experience with her after being named as the new CMS cross country coach.

She’ll team with new CHS coach and local running legend Natasha Bamberger, who returns to the school where she won a cross country state title and four track state titles in the ’80s.

The duo are in charge of resurrecting cross country programs which have lain largely dormant for two decades.

While individual Wolf runners have trained and traveled with first Oak Harbor, then South Whidbey, in recent years, CHS and CMS have not had in-school cross country programs of their own in a long time.

“I started coaching middle school track and field four years ago and to be completely honest this has always been my hope, that cross country would make a comeback,” Bitting said. “There are so many positives in bringing cross country back.

“For middle school, not everybody is a football player or volleyball player,” she added. “This gives our student athletes another choice.”

Cross country mixes aspects of team and individual performance, and, like track, is often about rising up to better your own best.

“Running helps to promote good health and an active lifestyle,” Bitting said. “We train as a team, race as a team, however it could feel like an individual sport.

“The athletes biggest competitor will be themselves and their previous times,” she added. “They will work hard, push themselves harder and hopefully carry this over into their academics and personal life.”

Support for the new program is especially strong at the middle school level, where Bitting has already seen 12 athletes express interest in running this fall. That number could grow before practice begins Aug. 22.

“The reaction at the middle school level has been great!,” she said. “It is due to the students that this is even happening.

“If it wasn’t for their interest I would still be waiting for the day that cross country makes a comeback.”

Bitting’s own trail running days began when she was a middle-school athlete in Southern California, then continued through her days at Walnut High School and Mt. San Antonio College.

Her high school teams won multiple league titles, then the young harrier made a major jump when she moved into college running.

Mt. SAC had the second-hardest cross country course in the U.S. at the time, which toughened the Mounties as they trained.

That paid off when a squad led by Bitting, who was team captain, won the 1988 California State Community College Championships.

The win kicked off a run of four titles in five years, and the school’s female harriers have now piled up nine first-place finishes, with the most-recent in 2017.

Her success on the trail fueled Bitting, and she has continued to embrace the sport throughout the years.

“My love of running has not subsided and I continue to run to this day,” she said. “Nowadays you’ll find me out in the trails.”

Along with her tenure as CMS track coach, Bitting has been a driving force behind the growth of running in Central Whidbey.

She helped bring the half marathon back to Coupeville with Dash for the Bash (later renamed Race the Reserve), which raises money for the senior class at CHS.

Toss in numerous 5K runs, and if someone is competing, Bitting is usually involved, either behind the scenes or out running herself.

While she thoroughly enjoys her own time on the trails, the Wolf coach draws great joy from helping young runners achieve their goals and hopefully launch their own life-long love of running.

“It makes me so happy seeing our middle school athletes move on to high school and continue their participation in track and field,” Bitting said. “I am hoping to do the same for cross country.”

As she works with Bamberger to kick-start the Wolf program, she has high hopes.

“I have multiple goals for the program,” Bitting said. “For the athletes, I want to see them enjoy, embrace, do well, and have fun during the season.

“I would also like to see them continue with cross country in high school, college and beyond,” she added. “For the program, I want to see it flourish. I’d like to see it be around for decades to come.”

If having a committed, enthusiastic coach at the helm is a key to success, and it usually is, the CMS harriers have hit the jackpot.

“I feel privileged to have been given this opportunity to coach the middle school athletes,” Bitting said. “I hope my knowledge and enthusiasm helps the athletes to enjoy the sport as much as I do.”

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   Coupeville’s Danny Conlisk will seek a second trip to the state cross country meet this fall, but this time he’ll be running out of his own school. (Dawnelle Conlisk photo)

“I want to see tennis shoes in front of me.”

When Coupeville High School/Middle School Athletic Director Willie Smith proposed re-launching an in-house Wolf cross country program two decades after it was shut down, he needed proof there would be a strong enough turnout to warrant the change.

“It’s easy for people to put their name on a paper and say, yeah, I might do it,” Smith added. “I wanted to know for sure we’d see those same kids when it was time to run.”

He got the assurance he was seeking, and Monday night the Coupeville School Board made it official — harriers will once again reside full-time at CHS and CMS.

In a nice twist, the motion to approve was made by the board’s student rep, junior Danny Conlisk, who should be front and center on the new Wolf team.

The track standout has traveled and trained with South Whidbey’s cross country team the past two seasons, while competing in a Coupeville uniform alongside Henry Wynn.

The duo became a trio this past fall when freshman Sam Wynn joined their treks to Langley.

Conlisk advanced to the state meet as a junior, the first Wolf harrier to do so since Tyler King won a state title in 2010.

Now, with Coupeville jumping from the Olympic League to join the new six-team North Sound Conference in the fall, the Wolves will run their own program.

Both the middle and high school track programs boast 40+ athletes on their current rosters, and Smith saw a groundswell of interest in running which hadn’t existed in previous years.

The original plan was to re-start a middle school program, adding on a high school team when those runners moved from CMS to CHS.

After penciling out the numbers for travel and coaches, however, Smith, CHS Principal Duane Baumann and Coupeville Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Shank decided to add both programs at once.

The addition of cross country gives CHS five fall sports (it joins football, volleyball, girls soccer and boys tennis) and CMS three (volleyball, football).

Cross country has a rich history at CHS, boasting state champs in Natasha Bamberger (1985) and King, who won his title while training and traveling with Oak Harbor.

All told, harriers have put 10 plaques, covering league, district and state meet accomplishments, up on the Wall of Fame in the CHS gym.

This despite the fact cross country hasn’t had an active program for more than two decades.

Smith arrived in Coupeville from Sequim in 1994, and cross country had been brought to an end right before he accepted his first teaching/coaching job with the school.

Now, the current AD is moving forward on finalizing a schedule and will launch a hunt for coaches.

The plan is to hire two, one for the high school team and one for the middle school program, and the jobs are expected to be posted later this week.

“We’re excited about this,” Smith said. “Going to be fun.”

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   Is cross country returning to Coupeville High School? The agenda for Monday’s School Board meeting says it’s likely. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The Wolves may reclaim the trail.

One of the most storied athletic programs at Coupeville High School is a quick vote away from being reborn.

When the agenda for Monday’s School Board meeting hit the internets tonight, buried down deep under new business was this little nugget:

Approve proposed High School Cross Country Program, Fall 2018.”

That means, barring a last-second plot twist from board members, which is doubtful since the proposal arrives with the full support of Athletic Director Willie Smith, Coupeville’s harriers will once again operate out of their own school.

Wolf cross country boasts state title winners in Natasha Bamberger and Tyler King and has 10 tiles on the school’s Wall of Fame, covering league, district and state meet accomplishments.

But there hasn’t been an active program operating out of CHS since the late ’90s.

When King ran, he trained and traveled with Oak Harbor, competing as part of the OHHS program until his senior year.

That season there was a change in the agreement between the two Island schools, and King pulled back on a Coupeville uniform.

After running alongside the Wildcats in the regular season, he went on his own for the postseason, capping his career with a 1A state title.

The past two seasons the Wolves have sent a handful of runners to South Whidbey, where they trained and traveled with the Falcons but competed as Coupeville athletes.

Two of the three harriers from this past fall, Danny Conlisk and Sam Wynn, currently a junior and freshman, respectively, are likely to anchor the new team if it’s approved.

The new cross country program would begin as Coupeville jumps to the new 1A North Sound Conference in the fall.

After a four-year run in the Olympic League, the Wolves are uniting with King’s, South Whidbey, Granite Falls, Sultan and Cedar Park Christian (Bothell) to form a new league.

Bamberger is the most-decorated harrier in CHS history, helping the 1982 Wolf girls squad win a league title and place 4th at state as a team during her freshman season.

Three years later, she won a state title as a senior.

Hearing the news of a revival, her smile was as quick as her legs used to be as they churned down trails.

“That is awesome,” Bamberger said. “So exciting!”

 

Coupeville cross country history:

1975 — Boys — 9th at State

1976 — Boys — 5th at State

1977 — Boys — Cascade League champs

1977 — Boys — District champs

1977 — Boys — 5th at State

1981 — Girls — 8th at State

1982 — Girls — Cascade League champs

1982 — Girls — 4th at State

1985 — Natasha Bamberger — State Champ

2010 — Tyler King — State Champ

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