ERIC D. WILLIAMS; The News Tribune
Published: September 17th, 2006 01:00 AM
Last year's state 4A cross country championships serve as a constant motivator for Puyallup High's Rob Webster.

He calls last November's race — when he went to Pasco with high hopes but finished 68th overall — his worst ever.

"My shoe came untied," Webster said about the race. "I got too cold. Just a combination of things went wrong. But I wanted to come into this year with a little more vengeance."

Webster has succeeded so far in his quest, grabbing first place in the ninth annual Fort Steilacoom Invitational at Fort Steilacoom Park on Saturday afternoon.

Hosted by Lakes High School, the event included 54 teams and over 1,600 runners. The local long-distance running showcase has grown into one of the more prestigious cross country events in the state.

Webster used a strong finish to surge past Capital's Graydon Manning with about 100 yards to go, finishing with a time of 15:50. Manning followed with a time of 15:51.

Cody Van Debrake (16:28) of Eisenhower and sophomore Jon Phillips (16:29) of South Kitsap finished third and fourth, respectively. Eisenhower took home team honors, while Olympia placed second and Lindbergh grabbed third.

Webster helped Puyallup finished eighth overall. The junior also took fifth in the Edmonds Invitational early this year, and said he's just working on improving each week.

In the girls race, West Valley of Yakima's Stephanie Shuel outlasted the rest of the field, finishing with a time of 18:54. Teammate Lisa Olander grabbed fourth, helping the Rams take home the girls title.

West Valley is ranked second among 3A schools in the Washington State Cross Country Coaches' Poll.

Bethel's Janae Larson was second in 19:05. The senior is running cross country for the first time, in part to help her train for distance events in the spring. Larson was a first alternate to state in the 3,200 meters last year.

Larson said she received some advice from fellow teammates to help her prepare for the hilly terrain on the course.

"It was definitely tough," she said. "I started out a little nervous and I got jammed. But overall I'm happy with how I did."

Joscelyn Minton from Northwest Christian came in third in 19:24. Other locals in the top 10 for the girls varsity race include Puyallup's Chelsie Jorgensen (19:29) in sixth, Capital's Amanda Wright (19:38) in eighth and Sumner freshman Ashlee Sincraugh took 10th.

Saturday was a perfect day for running, with mild temperatures, a little breeze and no wet stuff.

Joe Clark, cross country coach at Lakes, said he appreciates all of the volunteers and parents who donate their time to make the event happen.

"It has increased in size every year, and this is our biggest ever," Clark said. "One of the nice things about this event is the kids in the JV race get as many people cheering for them as they do in the varsity races."

Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437