Posts Tagged ‘Mt. San Antonio College’

Elizabeth Bitting (left) replaces the departing Paige Spangler (right) as Coupeville High School cross country coach.

Same trails, new boss.

Well, except the new boss is also the old boss.

Coupeville Middle School cross country guru Elizabeth Bitting, who coached the Wolf high school team in 2020, is returning to reclaim the position, but this time for good.

Bitting replaces Paige Spangler, who exits after two seasons at the helm of the CHS program.

The reason for the departure?

Spangler is moving to the East Coast after her husband, who’s in the military, recently received new orders.

Bitting has been the heart and soul of Coupeville’s running programs since they were relaunched in 2018 after a two-decade absence, building the middle school program into a huge success.

CMS boasted 30+ runners this fall, an extraordinary number for a school of its size.

A huge part of that is Bitting, who infuses her students with joy, regardless of whether they are hardcore runners or first-time athletes.

While she has piloted the middle school program the past five seasons, the high school harriers have had four different coaches.

Natasha Bamberger and Luke Samford each did a season before being pulled away by real-world jobs, Bitting agreed to coach both programs for a season, then Spangler joined her on the trails.

This time, Bitting is making the jump to the high school job for good, and the middle school coaching position will be posted.

“I am truly excited about the move. It is time,” Bitting said. “There’ll be no stepping down this time! I have plans! Lots of plans!”

A lifelong runner herself, Bitting was a team captain on a state title-winning harrier team at Mt. San Antonio College.

She also helped launch Dash for the Bash (later renamed Race the Reserve), which raises money for each year’s senior class at Coupeville High School.

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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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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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