Small strides

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This story was published Thursday, September 28th, 2006

By Rene Ferran Herald staff writer

The girls of the Southridge cross country program just finished their workout at Highlands Grange Park on Union Street, and they were seeking any bit of shade they could find.

Seven of them sat down in the shadow of a small tree below the roller hockey rink, while several others stood around the water jug on a bench along a walkway.

Senior Ainsley Bourque could only smile. Three years ago, as a freshman, she was one of only four Suns who finished the season at the Big Nine district meet.

\"I was sick for the first six weeks and couldn\'t run,\" she recalled. \"I come back, and I\'m running varsity, that\'s how bad we were.\"

In four of the program\'s eight years of existence, Southridge failed to field a full team for either the district or regional meet, and the other four years it either finished last or next-to-last in the team standings.

Now, Bourque and her 18 teammates make up one of the largest girls teams in the Mid-Columbia.

\"We\'re all really close, and we all really want to do well,\" Bourque said. \"We\'re all pretty excited.\"

And for good reason. The Suns are 3-1 in Columbia Basin 3A League dual meets after splitting with second-ranked West Valley (losing only 21-34 to the Rams) and Hanford at Tuesday\'s league meet in Moses Lake, and they won the 4A/3A division at Saturday\'s Connell Invitational.

Considering the strength of the Eastern Region -- besides defending state champion West Valley, it also boasts third-ranked Mount Spokane, No. 9 North Central and No. 11 Kamiakin -- it will take quite an effort for Southridge to qualify for the state meet in Pasco in early November.

But that\'s not the measure of success for the Suns this year.

\"We\'re taking a lot of satisfaction from beating teams we\'ve never beaten before,\" said coach Dave Rockstrom, the longtime coach at Kennewick who took over the Southridge girls program three years ago.

\"We\'ve never beaten Wenatchee before, and we\'ve done so twice. Same with Davis. We\'ve never beaten Kamiakin head-to-head, but we did at an invitational this year.\"

And many of the runners credit Rockstrom, a retired teacher in the Kennewick School District, as a driving force behind the turnaround.

\"Big time,\" Bourque said emphatically. \"We\'re really happy to have him. He knows his stuff. And he doesn\'t discourage anyone. He\'s really close to all the girls.\"

Two of them are his daughters -- junior MacKensie and freshman Macie. Then there\'s senior Christina Lee, who didn\'t turn out for cross country until her junior year, forgoing volleyball. She finished 27th at regionals, missing a state berth by seven spots.

Anne Steagall didn\'t turn out as a freshman last fall. This year, she\'s right on Lee\'s footsteps as the team\'s No. 1 runner. Junior Ali Johnston missed all of last season with a broken ankle.

In fact, of the eight runners who\'ve run varsity this year, six weren\'t in the program two years ago.

\"During the summer, we did a lot of training together, and we tried to get the freshmen to join us,\" Lee said. \"I like running, and all my friends kept saying I should do cross country. They said it was a lot of fun, and it is. It\'s amazing.\"

As Lee talked, water dripped from her uniform and long black hair. She and her teammates had abandoned the shade trees and cooled off in the adjoining water park, splashing through the fountains.

At other times, they\'ve donned tie-dyed T-shirts and taken cooldown runs through Wal-Mart.

\"We just have so much fun,\" Bourque said.

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