Sequim's newest neighbors are hardly welcome guests.
North Kitsap brings two top-flight programs to the 3A Olympic League division this season after a strong showing as a class 4A school.
Don't expect any sympathy from Sequim's cross country squads, however. With lineups loaded with experience and talent, the Wolves' boys and girls squads are legitimate threats to take league and district crowns in 2008, led by senior Kenny Russell and junior Alli Cutting.
Russell finished a team-best ninth at the 2A state cross country final in 2007 as Sequim finished 16th as a team, following a third-place finish at the West Central District meet.
Russell, who placed 10th at the state 2A meet in 2006, says this year's boys' squad looks primed for a banner season.
"So far we've got guys that are looking so strong," Russell says. "(We did) tons of training during the summer. After practices, we're doing ab workouts, doing pushups. We are way ahead of last year."
Backing Russell is one of
Sequim's most seasoned squads in recent memory, including fellow seniors Ben Ohnstad and Alex Clifford, and juniors Colby Robb and Tyler Wilson-Walters.
Coach Harold Huff says sophomore Alex Jenkins looks to be ready to make contributions to the varsity squad after running well for the junior varsity team in 2007.
"(They have the) potential to be the best I have ever coached and they are deep and experienced, but must (run) up to potential to improve in league and possibly win districts," Huff says.
The boys will have their hands full in the Olympic League after finishing fifth behind Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Peninsula and Olympic. Port Townsend, now a 1A school, figures to remain strong, led by Russell's rival, Quinton Decker.
"They're a really strong team," Russell said of Port Townsend. "As of now we've got a good chance. We'll beat P.T. I've got confidence in the team ... knowing everyone is in good shape."
Though Peninsula High left the Olympic League to join the South Puget Sound League, they are replaced by a North Kitsap group that finished 13th as a team at the class 4A state meet. Sophomore Tyler Spear and a strong class of juniors help NK vie for a league crown.
Sequim's girls figure to have their hands full with North Kitsap's Vikings and Port Angeles' Roughriders as well, as the Wolves try to defend Olympic League and West Central District titles.
"I think it's definitely going to take the whole team (to succeed)," Cutting says. "This year, we've got a smaller team. We have to close in as a pack (and) make sure that we get all 11 of us in quickly."
Cutting, who placed 21st at the 2007 state 2A meet, figures to be Sequim's best chance at a top-10 finish, and she'll be challenged plenty by Kingston's Ruby Roberts and her freshman sister Marina. North Kitsap's girls, led by then-sophomore Annelise Weinmann, finished 10th among 4A schools last year. Port Angeles was the 2007 Olympic League runner-up and returns formidable sophomore Alison Maxwell and senior Kelly Hennessey.
While Roberts outpaced Cutting for the Olympic League crown by nearly a minute last fall, Cutting closed that gap to nearly nothing in the spring track & field season.
"I was going after her, but I wasn't really there," Cutting says, recalling the 2007 league cross country final. To prep for this season, she's been running 55-60 miles each week, much of the time with Sequim's boys. "I think (Ruby and I) will be better matched this year."
The Wolves' girls bring back all but one runner from last year's squad that took ninth at state. But a nonexistent recruiting class - no female freshmen were on Sequim's roster as of last week - and just five experienced varsity runners in the mix, the Wolves can't afford any athlete to get tripped up with health issues, coach Huff says.
"We can afford no injuries on the ladies' side," Huff says. "We have to stay healthy."
Seniors Christina Bruce and Laura Moser, junior Zoei Zbaraschuk and sophomore Audrey Lichten round out the formidable top five.
Cutting is optimistic for 2008.
"Our goal is to win both league and districts. I think if we all keep working hard ... that's a reachable goal," she says. "We should place in the top four and our goal should be to come home with a team trophy."
Sequim gets two home meets this season: Oct. 1 against North Kitsap and Kingston, and Oct. 15 against Port Angeles and North Mason. Both are at the Robin Hill Park in Agnew.
Sequim High School cross country
2007 record: Girls - 7-1 in league meets; Olympic League meet champions; West Central District champions; ninth at state 2A meet. Boys - 4-4 in league meets; fifth at Olympic League meet; third at West Central District meet; 16th at state 2A meet
Head coach: Harold Huff (ninth year)
Top returners: Girls - Allison Cutting, Audrey Lichten, Christina Bruce, Zoei Zbaraschuk, Laura Moser. Boys - Kenny Russell, Ben Ohnstad, Alex Clifford, Colby Robb, Tyler Wilson-Walters
Top newcomers: Boys - Alex Jenkins
Outlook: Only injuries can derail top seasons from both squads. Expect improved times and, for the third consecutive year, both teams advancing to state.
Key dates: Sept. 24 at Bremerton, Klahowya; Oct. 1 vs. North Kitsap, Kingston; Oct. 9 at Olympic, Port Townsend; Oct. 15 vs. Port Angeles, North Mason
Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association preseason polls - 2A
1. Sehome, 2. Squalicum, 3. Cedarcrest, 4. Deer Park, 5. South Whidbey, 6. Kingston, 7. West Valley (Spokane), 8. Riverside, 9. Cheney, 10. Bellingham.
Receiving votes: Sequim, Ellensburg, W.F. West (Chehalis)