Warlassies lean on young core to return to state championship meet

Tom Flynn
Special To The Black Mountain News

After returning to the state championship meet last year after a seven-year absence, Owen High School’s girls’ cross-country team has its mark set on returning again in 2018.

“Last year was a big, exciting year for us because just making it to the state championships is a big goal in itself,” said Owen head coach, Kate Dost. “They had a good time and it was an exciting thing that built toward the future. We’d like to take both the boys and girls teams this year and I think we have a solid chance of that.”

After co-coaching the boys and girls teams for six years with long-time coach Joe Hyder, Dost leads the girls team this year after Hyder stepped back due to health reasons. The boys’ squad is now directed by Bob Sadlemire.

Last year’s team was loaded with freshmen, and this year’s roster of nine includes seven sophomores. The Warlassies compete in the Western Highlands Conference within the 2A West Region.

The head coach estimates that four or five teams will qualify for the state meet from the region.

Dost, 37, is a native of Easton, Massachusetts and described herself as a “solid contributor” on a very good high school cross-country team, before heading to Bowdoin College in Maine.

She’s in her 12th year teaching at Owen, and was already coaching swimming when Hyder talked her into co-coaching the cross-country teams.

Following in the footsteps of Hyder, a one-time 2:30-range competitive marathoner, Dost typically runs with her squad and has completed several Black Mountain marathons.

“I do think it helps the kids that I’m out there with them, because I’m not asking them to do anything I’m not willing to do,” she said. It also helps the coach devise appropriate training regimens for her runners, as she sees first-hand who is laboring or having an easy time with their current workload."

During meets, the coach moves between mile markers and notes the runners mile splits, or times at each mile mark. Ideally a runner runs even or “negative” splits, meaning they run faster in the latter stages of a race. 

Owen’s top returning runner is Hannah Larios, who was the team’s top finisher at the Buncombe County meet at Asheville Christian Academy on September 5.

Larios won the Western Highlands Conference championship in 2017 and was named the conference runner of the year as just a freshman. She went on to take fourth place in last year’s 2A West Regional.

She was a big part of the Warlassies return to the state meet after its extended absence. There she battled injury to place 39th in the 2A NCHSAA meet.

The sophomore is building conservatively this fall after the injury flared during the spring track season.

“She’s running well right now, but we’re definitely not being very aggressive with her training,” Dost said.

In high school cross country the top five runners score, and the lower the sum of their aggregate finishes, the better. Therefore a low score, rather than a high one, wins a meet. Keeping the band of 1-5 runners as tightly grouped together as possible toward the front-end of a race makes for an optimal score.

The number 2 runner behind Larios is dual-sport athlete, Laila Burk. Burk is also a member of the JV volleyball team at Owen, and a concussion suffered in that sport had her miss time early in the cross-country season.

“She’s a very talented runner,” said Dost, noting that with the two sports running concurrently, Burk’s training is largely a combination of volleyball practices and cross country meets. Like Larios, Burk was a standout on the Warlassies’ track team this past spring.

Ellery Parmenter was projected as the team’s number 2 runner, but due to a track injury is not where she’d planned to be this fall.

Sophomore Sophie Murphy was new to running last year, and has “tons of speed and a lot energy,” and Dost expects her to peak well for the championship phase later in the fall. Senior Chloe Stiles currently slots as the team’s #4 runner.

“In the past, she was content in her spot as our sixth/seventh runner, but lately I’ve seen her stepping up to her new role as a scoring runner, putting in a string of quality workouts that show she is ready for some breakthrough races,” Dost said.

Senior Josie Davis and sophomores Emma Whitney, Ava Yurchak, and Azalia Patton will vie for the final scoring spot for Owen.

The Warlassies like to utilize the region’s prolific and prodigious hills as a contributor to their success.

“I always tell the kids in practice – when you’re in that meet, everyone hates the hills; everyone’s afraid of the hills. If you can be that kid that has mastered them to a point where you say ‘Oh, good a hill’, then you’ve got a huge advantage,” said Dost.

Owen is set to race next at A.C. Reynolds on Wednesday, Sept. 19.