Updated: Sep 28, 2021
The 2020 high school cross country season was unlike anything we have ever witnessed. There were no state championships, district meets, or big invites to show who the best of the best were in Washington.
With the new season approaching in a blink of an eye, a sense of normalcy is on the horizon. After a short season of fast times and unexpected outcomes, this upcoming cross country season will be one of the most anticipated years in quite some time.
Here is your look at the top 4A individuals and teams on the girl's side to watch for in 2021.
Ella Borsheim, Bellarmine
With much to prove after a tough sophomore outing at the state meet in 2019, Ella Borsheim comes into the fall more than ready for a bounce-back year and to show she is still one of the best to ever run in Washington. The Bellarmine standout went undefeated in SPSL cross country races this last spring and was the runner-up in the Nike Cross Virtual Championships in the fall running a 5k personal best time of 16:55.8. She also ran lifetime bests in the two-mile (10:39.7) and 4k (14:11.9). During track, Borsheim won two SPSL titles in the 800 and 1,600 and was then invited to compete at the Brooks PR Invite. She ran at various national meets, including The Outdoor Nationals, Running Lane Track Championships, Nike Rotary USATF, and Stumptown Twilight, to compete with some of the country's best individuals. Ran lifetimes best in the 1,600 (4:48.27), the mile (4:45.63), and 3,200 (10:20.49).
Emily Van Valkenburg, Eastlake
One of the best storylines of the past year has been the rise of Emily Van Valkenburg. As a junior, Van Valkenburg only raced three times in the fall unattached season and came away with three wins, including a 5k personal best run of 16:57.2 in the Laps for Dayz 5k and a personal best three-mile time of 16:17 in the Woodbridge Classic Trample the Virus Virtual Race. Of those three wins, the one that gained national attention was her race at the Desert Twilight XC Festival in Arizona, where she ran a first-place time of 17:15.5 and defeated the 2019 4A state cross country champion and former Issaquah standout, Julia David-Smith. When it came to the track season, Van Valkenburg had more racing opportunities as she won five of five races and ran a personal best 1,600 time of 5:17.79 and a season-best 3,200 time of 11:00.75.
Natalie Ruzauskas, Richland
Throw Natalie Ruzauskas in the mix for potential state champion front-runners, and this makes for an exciting 4A group. The 2019 4A state runner-up won three races in the spring cross country season, including a Mid-Columbia Conference tri-meet three-mile race in a personal best 17:38.2. Following that race a week later, Ruzauskas was the runner-up at the MCC Championships posting a 5k personal best time of 18:18 and leading Richland to a 45 point win over Kennewick for the league title. Ruzauskas also put together three more personal bests run in the track season posting 2:15.82 in the 800, 5:03.80 in the 1,600, and 11:03.04 in the 3,200. She was second in the 1,600 and 3,200 at the MCC Championships as an individual but key to the Bombers winning the 4x400 relay.
Sydney Collier, Skyline
We don't typically learn about incoming freshmen until after the season, but Sydney Collier has been building quite the resume coming into her first year of high school running. Last December, the potential Skyline star was runner-up at the AAU Cross Country National Championships posting a 4k personal best time of 13:22, only three seconds off the winning time. Collier also partook in the Yakima XC Meet of Champions and won in a 5k personal best time of 19:02. During track, Collier won the AAU National Junior Olympic Games title in the 3,000 posting a personal best time of 10:06.03 and then finished in second in the 1,500 running another personal best 4:41.38.
Kate Sanders, Tahoma
It was an up and down kind of running season for Kate Sanders in the fall and spring, but things began to click at the final cross country race of the year and in the track season, showing promising signs for her junior year. One of three Tahoma runners to make the list, Kate led the Bears to the virtual 4A state cross country championship team title running a 5k personal best time of 18:15.1 placing third overall as an individual. Then in track, Kate ran personal best times of 5:07.34 in the 1,600 and 11:27.80 in the 3,200. She also won the 4A/3A NPSL title in the 3,200 and was third in the 1,600.
Sara Sanders, Tahoma
Like her twin sister Kate, Sara Sanders also found her groove towards the end of the cross country and track seasons, making this Tahoma team strong for this fall. Sara was fourth overall in the virtual 4A state cross country meet running a 5k personal best time of 18:22.4 to improve upon her 73rd place finish at the 2019 state meet as a freshman. Sara won three 4A/3A NPSL titles in track, two as an individual in the 800 and 1,600 and one as a leg of Tahoma 4x400 relay team. She also posted personal best times in the 800 (2:20.71), the 1,600 (5:06.9), and the 3,200 (11:27.8).
Faith Martinez, Tahoma
Three years since her freshman state podium finish at the 2018 4A state cross country meet, Faith Martinez enters her senior year with bigger goals and more to prove she belongs in the conversation with the best individuals in Washington. After a season of missing the state podium as a sophomore, Martinez got right back into the mix with a fifth-place finish in the virtual 4A state meet running a 5k season-best time of 18:22.7, one second off her personal best from freshman year. During track, Martinez ran respectable marks posting season-best times of 2:25.65 in the 800, 5:14.74 in the 1,600, and 11:41 in the 3,200. She was second in 1,600 and fourth in the 800 at the 4A/3A NSPL Championships and contributed to the Bears winning 4x400 relay team.
Teams to Watch for:
- The overall talent on Tahoma's girl's team this season is something no other team in Washington can match right now. The Sanders sisters and Faith Martinez are right in the mix to finish top 10 as individuals at state, but athletes like Anika Nau, who enters the season with the 15th best returning time, could sneak their way onto the podium. With a seven-runner spread of 78 seconds, the Bears' depth will carry them to greater heights this season in hopes of repeating as state champions.
- If one team could match Tahoma's depth this season, it's the Central Valley girls. However, losing athletes like Rubagail Bryntesen to transferring and Savannah Pratt and Sarah Pecha to graduation will be three key roles the Bears will need to fill this fall after a second place team finish at the virtual 4A state meet. But even with those losses, CV returns a solid veteran group with plenty of varsity experience, including four-year varsity runner Kylee Shakespeare.
- While Bellarmine has the best individual runner in the whole state in Ella Borsheim, the Lions also have a young and up-and-coming team with the potential to be very good for this season. Borsheim's younger sister, Ava, showed what she was capable of in cross country and track running multiple PRs as a freshman, while Josephine Stevenson aims for her first state podium finish after placing 23rd at the 2019 4A state meet as a freshman.
Lewis & Clark
- Other than two athletes, Lewis and Clark returns an entire program full of upperclassmen looking to make more noise at the 4A state meet this season. Just like Tahoma and Bellarmine, the Tigers trio featuring Audrey Thronson, Alice Groza, and Bridget Burns could all be in the mix to finish within the top 16 as individuals.