Knappa cross country will be building up from the ground floor in 2008, as the Loggers and coach Kemboi Chesimet will be trying to plug new runners into the holes left by Gretchen George, Stevie Allen, Lars Gjovik, and others.

George and Allen - Knappa's two competitors in last year's state meet - have both graduated, although Allen has remained to help the program get back on its feet.

"One of the things about cross country is that it's really unpredictable," said Chesimet, one of the area's most respected and well-liked coaches. "The only time you can predict it is when you have the same talent, like the Gretchens or the Stevies, who are always there and they've always run.

"Running has to be something you love to do, whether the coach is there or not," he said. "The challenge we face with the young people is how motivated they are.

"They have a mentor like Ross (MacDougall, former Astoria runner). Ross has been here most of this week, and Stevie has been helping as my assistant, to give the runners someone who they can identify with."

THE RUNNERS

Chesimet calls them "unknowns" for right now, since most of the Knappa runners are young and inexperienced in cross country.

"Most of these runners I have from the track season, they were either sprinters or competed in the field events and jumps," Chesimet said. "Three miles might be a long day for them.

"My emphasis this year is to build them," he said. "Some don't even know what competition is yet.

"So it's part fun, part competition. We incorporate different things to make it fun for them, to avoid the mundane or monotony and boredom, which can kick in very fast with some of these kids.

"One of the things I've realized with the young people is that we need to be creative around them; otherwise, they don't see the fun in it. You have to be laid back - we're not in Beijing where they're drilled from 3 years old."

The top Knappa runners from a year ago - George, Brittany Dugan, Allen and Gjovik - have graduated, leaving a handful of youngsters.

Some have experience, including Katie George, Emily Johnson, Bridget Kahn, Anna Marks and Paige Tischer.

Last year's Knappa boys team included Roland Johansen, Matthew Lapport, Paul McAloney, Robert Paterson and Dennis Peterson.

"Emily and Katie George might be my big leaders for the girls," Chesimet said.

"As young as they are, they're a fun team. Which is big for me - they need to have fun. If they succeed, great. If they don't, they're still great.

"I'm looking at midseason - by then I can start to see what's going on."

THE OUTLOOK

"My goal this year is to build a team," Chesimet said. "Given what I have, I know we are not breaking through this year. I'm just being realistic. I don't want it to sound like I don't think highly of them, but given my experience and what I see, you have to assess your team realistically."

So ... "my season goal this year is surprises," Chesimet said. "That will be my goal. If I'm surprised, then I've met my goal. You have to be realistic, and I'm being realistic in assessing what I have.

"But again, as you see in the Olympics, somebody from out of nowhere just goes for the gold. So we never know."

The Loggers will host an invitational Sept. 13, near the elk refuge in Jewell.

"(Former Knappa coach) Gary Jacobson is putting together a big show out there," Chesimet said. "So far we have about 10 teams showing interest. It's going to be a big meet. We'll spend the night there and have a great time."

Knappa will compete in the district preview meet Sept. 8 at Tualatin Hills, where the district championships will be held Oct. 23.

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