On a September morning, coach Harold Huff is putting his young runners through the paces. Literally. Some are pushing four minutes for the half-mile loop at Robin Hill Farm Park, others a little more than three minutes.
For the first time in years, the veteran coach entering his 10th year has plenty of answers for how well the Sequim boys cross country squad is shaping up.
After placing 11th at state in 2008 without one of their top senior runners, Sequim is "deeper and better" in 2009, Huff says.
"If they stay healthy, they'll do well this year," he says.
Conversely, Huff isn't as sure about his girls squad, down to just seven bodies for this preseason practice.
Although Sequim returns senior Alli Cutting, the reigning 2A state champion, Sequim lost to graduation three runners from a squad that took fourth in the 2A ranks in 2008.
Add to that a lingering injury to junior Audrey Lichten, a linchpin to Sequim's potential in 2009, and the Sequim coach is searching for answers.
Some of his questions were answered with turnout of four freshmen and a new-to-the-team senior this fall; last year, the girls team saw no new runners.
"I'm very happy with (the new girls); they can all run," Huff says. "It's just a matter of getting them in shape."
On the boys' side, one freshman already making a big impact is Adrian Clifford, whose brothers Anton and Alex are both graduates of Huff running squads.
Clifford, Huff says, already has pushed up into varsity team status.
Sequim returns key seniors Colby Robb and Tyler Wilson-Walters, and junior Alex Jenkins to the 2009 team, plus Joel Christopher, a sophomore who made big strides as a freshman last season. The Wolves also have a slew of experienced runners pushing for varsity spots, including Drake Apablasa, Joe Dapcevich, Jake Sisco, Brogan Vesterby and Derek Morgan.
Huff hopes to see his boys push for a top-three spot in a tough 2A/3A Olympic League that figures to be dominated by North Kitsap.
Kingston's girls, with state meet runner-up Ruby Roberts and powerhouse sister Marina, are the favorites on the girls' side.
The Wolves open at the Capital Invitational in Olympia on Sept. 12.
On Sept. 19, the Wolves challenge host Port Angeles and a bevy of top area teams at the Salt Creek Invitational.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.