Chloe Connolly can’t help but smile when she talks cross country.
The Redmond High freshman finds comfort in running 5K courses — which aren’t always easy to tackle with their twists, turns and bumps along the way — and she makes sure to stay positive from start to finish.
Last Saturday, the youngster achieved what only a few Mustang girl runners have done — she broke the 19-minute mark at the Nike Hole in the Wall XC Invitational at Lakewood High in Arlington. She clocked in with a time of 18:56.8 and finished 28th at the 36-school race that featured runners from all classifications.
“I think I was just really into it mentally. Really, what it all boils down to is I was excited for the race. I really wanted to succeed. And the pressure of KingCo is so close, I was like, ‘Oh, let’s start to go,’” said Connolly, noting that the 3A league championships are coming up.
Connolly said that one of her coaches suggested that she smile when running because it not only breaks up her breathing, but the sport makes her happy.
“It’s the best feeling in the world after you (finish). And just feeling unstoppable. And during a race, just feeling so powerful and that you’re doing it, you can run it,” she said.
Redmond’s boys ran straight to the top of the standings at the Hole in the Wall led by junior George Cretu, who finished 13th with a mark of 15:55.2.
His best time this season is 15:46, which he notched at the Nike Twilight XC Invitational last month in Marysville. That’s about a minute faster than his top overall time last season.
“It all comes down to the enjoyment of doing well. Before a race, it’s hard and you train a lot, but I know that it all builds up to something and that something just feels great,” said Cretu, sporting sunglasses at practice on Monday. “Being done with the race and knowing you did well and being happy with yourself is a feeling like it’s worth working for.”
Cretu is coming off a pair of victories in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races at the KingCo championships last spring. Coach Denis Villeneuve said that with Cretu’s training, talent and motivation, the runner is right where the coaches thought he would be at this point. Cretu’s form is getting better each time out, Villeneuve added.
“It kind of gives you confidence coming into a season, knowing you can look around the field of people you run with and say, ‘Hey, I beat that person during track and I can do it again,’” Cretu said.
The Redmond boys are a tight-knit group, Cretu said, and he’s known many of them since elementary and middle schools. The mentally strong runners also spend time off the course when they have dinner together and discuss the upcoming races.
“We all run for each other and I think that’s probably what the most important team element is — being a team and having some camaraderie and brotherhood,” he said.
Other solid runners on the boys’ side include twins Kyle and Eric Nickum, John Lehr, Cooper Arons and Travis Mason.
The boys, who were 4-1 in 3A KingCo at press time, finished second in league, seventh at district and ninth at state last year. Villeneuve said they underachieved at district and state and are currently ranked second in the 3A state rankings behind fellow 3A KingCo opponent Interlake. It should be an interesting next three weeks of postseason action, he added.
Coach Pete Whitmore praised first-year runner and senior Lehr for grasping the sport so quickly and making an impact on the course. Lehr ran track last spring and the coaches are elated that he chose to move into the cross-country realm this season.
The Mustang girls were also 4-1 in KingCo at press time and feature standouts Ailey Butler, Lauren Lehr, Naho Masaki, Amelia Muscott and Tasia Meyer.
“It’s great, all the girls are just really nice. Just as a freshman, they just really took me in and it’s just such a great atmosphere,” said Connolly, who the coaches saw run a 5:23 mile for Evergreen Middle School at the track championships last spring.
A former softball player, Connolly said her mom got her into running, but she was skeptical at first.
“I was like, ‘We’re gonna be doing what, for how long?’ But then I just really got into it,” said Connolly, who also ran with the Cascade Striders club squad.
Villeneuve said Connolly has a good attitude and is a positive and hard-working athlete.
“The reason why she can run so fast is she’s not afraid, she just goes out and races,” the coach said.