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CHS cross country runners (l to r) Helen Strelow, Erica McGrath, and Catherine Lhamon prepare for a race Saturday. (Photos by Elizabeth Bitting)

Coupeville cross country’s home.

Ready and rarin’ to go.

The best backdrop in Washington state.

One last run together.

With Coupeville High School launching an official return to sports Monday, the open coaching season came to an end for all Wolf teams this weekend.

Over the course of several months, coaches at both the high school and middle school were able to work with their athletes under strict pandemic rules.

CHS athletes will kick off their return to semi-normalcy with spring sports, with baseball, softball, girls tennis, and track up first.

Cross country, along with other traditional fall sports, is scheduled to compete March 29 to May 8.

With compressed seasons, limited access to fields, and likely a shortage of available refs, middle school athletes will likely not have conventional athletic seasons this school year.

CHS/CMS Athletic Director Willie Smith is working on various options, however, and still hopes to give CMS students a chance to compete in some way.

Saturday marked the end of the road for the CHS and CMS cross country runners working together, and the athletes and coaches Elizabeth Bitting and Jon Gabelein went out in style.

Capping workouts which started back in the summer, the Wolves had 17 runners show up at Fort Casey State Park for an honest-to-goodness in-person meet.

Masks in place, at least for the start and finish, as dictated by the state health department, Coupeville’s harriers tackled the course with gusto.

“Each of those athletes set a PR for themselves!,” Bitting said. “The snow made some sections a bit muddy and slippery, we had a few falls, but all enjoyed what we hope to dub ‘our home course.’

“We heard lots of praise for the course and parents couldn’t get over the backdrop their athletes were running against,” she added.

“The Olympic mountains, the Puget Sound, the ferry coming and going, the lighthouse and the big guns. Who could ask for anything more?”

While she was proud of the 17 Wolves who competed Saturday, Bitting was equally thrilled with the fact she had 40 different runners take part in the open coaching season.

“We are so proud of each and every athlete who participated!”

 

Complete Saturday results:

 

Middle School (1.5 mile-course)

 

GIRLS:

Gabby Gebhard (1st) 14:10
Ayden Wyman (2nd) 14:18

 

BOYS:

Thomas Strelow (1st) 12:13
Jack Porter (2nd) 12:23
Nic Wasik (3rd) 12:24
Johnny Porter (4th) 13:58
Jack Farrell (5th) 14:33
Dylan Robinett (6th) 18:38

 

High School (2.96-mile course):

 

GIRLS:

Catherine Lhamon (1st) 25:20
Helen Strelow (2nd) 28:29
Erica McGrath (3rd) DNF

 

BOYS:

Aidan Wilson (1st) 21:32
Mitchell Hall (2nd) 21:40
Hank Milnes (3rd) 24:22
Reiley Araceley (4th) 24:50
Alex Wasik (5th) 27:48
Tate Wyman (6th) 30:55

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Elizabeth Bitting loves to run, regardless of the weather. (Photo courtesy Bitting)

In the middle of big upheaval, a familiar face.

The ongoing pandemic has shut down prep sports for much of the last year, while Coupeville High School has also lost several coaches who have moved away from Whidbey.

But thanks to one popular local coach, the Wolves will have some stability, even during a time of transition.

Elizabeth Bitting, a middle school cross country and track guru, has agreed to move up and replace Luke Samford as the CHS cross country head coach.

She’ll be the third coach in as many years for the Wolf harriers, following Natasha Bamberger and Samford, who both put in a season before being called away by career and family duties.

But there shouldn’t be much of a bump in the road, as Bitting has likely already coached every runner she will have this season.

She’s been a CMS track coach since 2015, adding the cross country program to her duties when it was revived in 2018, and led both teams during the open coaching season.

Current plans call for high school cross country to return at the end of March, and run through the first week of May. At this time, it appears the middle school program will sit out this school year.

With that in mind, Bitting was willing to consider CHS/CMS Athletic Director Willie Smith’s offer of coaching the older team.

Whether she will continue in the role, or revert back to just middle school athletics, is, like everything in the Age of Coronavirus, a bit of an unknown.

“Anything is possible, but my hope for high school cross country is for them to have consistency and stability,” Bitting said.

“Changing coaches from year to year brings different training techniques, different philosophies, different vibes, and different expectations,” she added. “I’d love to see a coach in that position for the long haul.”

While COVID could still throw a wrinkle or two into plans, Bitting is already planning to take advantage of whatever time she gets with her new team.

“This season is going to look very different than any season before. With just six weeks from beginning to end the plan is to fit as much in as possible,” she said. “I’ll be asking the athletes what is important to them. What are their favorite stretches, workouts and routes?

“For those that don’t know me already they will soon learn what my favorite workout is … hills!,” Bitting added with a laugh. “Whenever the opportunity presents itself, always run uphill.

“My overall goal is to keep everybody healthy and have them see their times improve.”

At whatever level she works at, Bitting long ago committed full-force to the running life.

She started her own cross country career in middle school, continuing to hit the trail through high school, junior college, university, and on to today.

While running for Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, Bitting helped lead the 1988 team to a state title, the first in program history.

“At the time it was just another race,” she said. “However, now looking back, it was a very big deal.

“That has been one of my proudest moments in my running history.”

Bitting (back, second from right), kickin’ butt as a college cross country runner. (Photo courtesy Bitting)

Bitting, who continues to run regularly, has organized numerous 5K’s in the area, while also helping create Race the Reserve, which is the largest fundraiser for Coupeville’s graduating class.

As the event has blossomed into a must-see for runners, boasting a marathon and multiple shorter races, she has twice held the title of Race Director, leading the charge in 2011 and 2014.

Bitting and husband John are fast approaching their 20-year anniversary of arriving in Coupeville, with both of their children — Destiny and Chris — having graduated from CHS.

Along with working with its runners, Bitting has had a major impact on the school district working as a Speech Language Pathologist Assistant and substitute teacher.

When it came time to coach, Bitting jumped at the possibility of working with middle school students, many of whom are just beginning to find their sports paths.

“Ask anybody and they will tell you I do enjoy middle school,” she said. “I enjoy the student athletes trying something new and my goal is to instill a lifelong passion of running.

“Every sport encompasses running and to get a solid foundation down early could contribute to success in any sport.”

Imparting wisdom to her athletes. (Deb Smith photo)

While games, meets, and matches have been postponed, Wolf athletes have had the chance to practice in recent months, a huge positive in Bitting’s eyes.

“COVID has been a big game changer,” she said. “I’ve seen athletes put so much time and effort into their training to only get disappointed because their sport was put on hold, postponed or cancelled.

“Then the WIAA created the open coaching session and we have been holding practices, always under the guidelines outlined for us,” Bitting added. “The athletes have truly embraced this. Having to wear a mask has not fazed them.”

While she had hoped for a middle school season, when Smith approached her with the idea of coaching high school, her interest was piqued.

“The high school program has had some amazing coaches; however, life cannot stop for the love of a sport and these amazing coaches’ lives have taken them away from being able to coach,” Bitting said.

“I know these athletes. I’ve coached the majority of them when they were in middle school. I’ve seen many of them grow up in this wonderful community we live in. I’ve seen them become wonderful students and amazing athletes.”

The tipping point in her decision making was remembering an incident early in her coaching career.

The CMS track team arrived at an away meet, only for one athlete to discover they hadn’t packed their running shoes.

“Something any coach does not want to hear,” Bitting said with a big smile. “So, I bent down, took off my running shoes, handed them over and said go warm up.

“I then slipped on their Converse shoes and continued as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

“Well, this athlete is now a senior, we’ve come full circle, this athlete’s experience started with me and will end with me. Let’s just hope their running shoes are not forgotten this time around.”

Bitting has always preached the importance of running, and that will always remain her mantra.

“My philosophy has always been to have athletes enjoy running, for it will help them in any sport they attempt and is something they can continue throughout their life,” she said.

“Plus running will literally take them anywhere.

“This is what I hope runners take away from a season with me, the pure love and enjoyment of running.

“I love inspiring young people to run; I love challenging young minds and bodies to achieve things they did not think were possible.”

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Elizabeth Bitting, seen here with Brynn Parker, is taking the reigns of the CHS cross country program. (Corinn Parker photo)

New coaches as far as the eye can see.

While it’s been almost a full year since a Coupeville High School or Middle School team has competed during the Age of Coronavirus, behind-the-scenes preparations continue.

CHS/CMS Athletic Director Willie Smith has five new coaches lined up, but the actual hires are waiting on two things — a return to play, and the approval of the school board.

Topping the list is Elizabeth Bitting, who is moving from coaching middle school track to running the high school program. At least for a year.

“With no middle school athletics at this point, other than a possible track season, Elizabeth agreed to do the high school cross country team this year,” Smith said.

“We’ll evaluate at the end of the year what level she will coach next year.”

The extremely-popular Bitting, who worked with runners from both schools during the open coaching period, replaces Luke Samford, who moved out of state.

Other new coaches waiting to officially start their duties include Will Thayer, Robert Wood, Cris Matochi, and Ashley Menges.

Thayer, who was originally hired to coach JV softball last spring, only to see COVID cancel the season before it began, replaces Chris Smith as CHS head baseball coach.

Smith moved off-Island after the graduation of his youngest child.

Wood, who previously worked as an assistant coach, steps into the lead role with the CHS boys soccer program.

Kyle Nelson previously coached both boys and girls soccer, but with Coupeville’s move from 1A to 2B, both teams now play in the same season, and he chose to step away from one program.

Matochi will coach middle school volleyball, while Menges, whose unofficial hire had been previously announced, follows Chris Smith as the JV volleyball coach for the CHS spiker program.

With the proposed hirings, the lone position still open on the school district’s web site is for a CHS boys basketball JV coach — which was also previously filled by Chris Smith.

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Hank Milnes recorded the fastest time of any runner in Coupeville’s third virtual cross country meet. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The open trail calls to runners of all ages. (Photos courtesy Porter and Ferrell families)

The official summer workout season is coming to a close for Coupeville cross country runners, but the Wolves continue to pile up the miles.

CMS coach Elizabeth Bitting, who is currently overseeing things for both high school and middle school harriers, has to step away, by WIAA rule, between August 17 and September 27.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the regular school cross country season has been moved from the fall to next March, as well.

None of that means the Wolves can’t keep up their summer activity on their own, however.

With Bitting still able to keep an eye on things, nine Coupeville runners teamed up to record 98.62 miles this past week, pushing the team summer total to 793.41 miles.

Included in that was the third of four virtual races, as the Wolves participated in the 2.89-mile “Don’t Get Lost in the Kettles Run.”

The official summer season wraps up this coming week with “The Pretty Pratt Run,” a 1.89-mile trek, which will take them up around the cemetery.

Runners have until next Saturday, Aug. 15 to record their best times and submit them to Bitting, who will release the results to the media the following day.

 

Results of the Kettles Run:

 

High School:

Hank Milnes (1st) 18:43
Reiley Araceley (2nd) 18:44

“Though the participants in the high school race were a smaller group this week what a great race I can envision in my mind!!!,” Bitting said.

“Running a race virtually is hard enough, but these runners had no idea how close they were to one another.

“Impressive race Hank and Reiley!!! Great job!!!! Woot! Woot!!”

 

Middle School:

Jack Porter (1st) 20:15
Nic Wasik (2nd) 21:47
Ayden Wyman (3rd) 23:53
Johnny Porter (4th) 24:30
Lillian Stanwood (5th) 25:18

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The Porter boys (and their mini coach) get a summer cross country workout. (Photos courtesy Elizabeth Bitting)

Another week in the books, another chunk of mileage on the odometer.

Coupeville cross country guru Elizabeth Bitting has been tracking the work put in by Wolf harriers this summer, and the numbers continue to soar along with the heat.

In the latest count, 11 CHS/CMS runners piled up 94.19 miles over the past seven days, pushing Coupeville’s summer total to 694.7 miles.

Next up for the Wolves is their third virtual race of the off-season, the “Don’t Get Lost in the Kettles Run.”

Runners will have a week to run and record their best times on the crisp 2.89-mile jaunt, with results to be posted here on Coupeville Sports next Sunday.

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