Wa-Hi trio takes hopes to 4A state cross country meet

Wa-Hi harriers Sean Newcomb (at right) and Ben Wolpert (second from right), here at the regional meet last weekend, run at the Washington state Class 4A cross country meet Saturday in Pasco.

Wa-Hi harriers Sean Newcomb (at right) and Ben Wolpert (second from right), here at the regional meet last weekend, run at the Washington state Class 4A cross country meet Saturday in Pasco. photo courtesy MICHAEL LOCATI

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WALLA WALLA — A trio of Wa-Hi harriers take to the Washington state Class 4A cross country course at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco Saturday bringing a variety of expectations.

All three are new to the state meet, but senior Sean Newcomb is coming off a first place at the district race and third at regional, after having success at various races previously.

Junior Ben Wolpert has battled lower leg issues in his second cross country season, but finished eighth at the regional and has his sights set on older brother J.P.’s state mark.

And sophomore Courtney Cox ran to fourth at last weekend’s regional after switching to cross country from playing soccer.

“I’m pretty confident,” Newcomb said of Saturday’s race. “Mostly, it’s been this year (the success he’s had) that’s given me the confidence to do well.”

The Blue Devil senior ran near the front of the field at the regional, and plans to do the same at state.

“I want to stay up in the lead pack, and after that first mile just go for it and see what happens,” Newcomb said. “My goal is to make it into the top five.”

And that’s not an unattainable goal, Wa-Hi coach Mike Locati said.

“Sean has been a great runner,” Locati said. “He’s extremely competitive and motivated, and he’s been doing as much as he possibly can to get to where he’s at. We knew he had the capabilities, we knew the potential was there, we just didn’t know when this Sean Newcomb would show up — and he did!

“If he runs well — that’s the hardest part, 10 seconds could be 10 places — he could be anywhere in the top 10,” he said. “With a really good race, a top five.”

Wolpert has been training in the swimming pool most of this year, staying off his feet as much as possible after his doctor diagnosed impending stress fractures. After talking with Locati about not running this year, Wolpert decided to give it a go.

“I’ve been staying off my legs, trying to keep them healthy,” he said. “It’s really paid off. I didn’t expect to make much of the season, but it turned out to be OK.”

He has his sights set on his brother’s state time his junior year at Wa-Hi. J.P. Wolpert finished 14th at state as a senior last year in 15:37.9, and 13th as a junior in 15:53.5.

“I’m ready to make a jump in time, hopefully,” Wolpert said. “I’m going to go for it and place as high as I possibly can. My goal is top 15, or to beat my brother’s junior state time.”

“What he’s done over the season, and the motivation he’s had, is pretty remarkable,” Locati said. “He’s got that kind of motivation and follow through to do that.”

Cox, who ran a year of cross country at Pioneer Middle School, has enjoyed her transition to the high school squad from soccer this year.

“I wanted to improve my track (skills), and I really enjoyed the group (of cross country runners) I met through track,” Cox said of the switch. “I thought the endurance would help in my hurdling skills, so I thought I’d give it a shot!”

Cox was joined by a handful of Blue Devil girls with a shot at qualifying for the state meet as a team. But various circumstances left her teammates out of the top 10 at the regional meet heading to state, and she alone carries the Wa-Hi girls’ flag.

Cox faces a state field filled with fellow sophomores, which takes a little pressure off her.

“I just want to finish!” she said with a laugh. “Hopefully I’d like to finish under 20 (minutes).”

Cox finished in 19:20.6 at the regional tournament.

“She’s the youngster,” Locati said of Cox. “It’s been a blessing she has (joined the cross country team). She’s led the team very, very well. She fit in like the fifth finger in a glove. It’s been very nice, we’re excited for her.”

And, much to Locati’s delight, Cox said she plans on returning to the cross country ranks next year.

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