NASELLE, Wash. - "We have a great schedule that will challenge our athletes and prepare us for post-season competition," said first-year Comet cross country coach, Scott Smith.

Smith, who has coached and taught at Naselle the past 23 years, is happy to have enough runners for boys' and girls' teams in 2005, and both squads are hopeful of sending some athletes to the next level.

Smith took the cross country reins late and acknowledges that the athletes did not train together much during the summer. But many attended basketball camps and played sports this summer, so they should be in relatively strong competitive shape. "It will take a few weeks to get into racing condition, but I expect the athletes will learn fast and work hard," Smith predicted.

The boys' team will be led by Evan Hendrickson, and Garrick Bennet and Keegan McGuire will also be strong competitors. Stephan Griss, Josh Martin and Nathan Sultmeier will add depth and scoring strength to the five-man squad. Only the district champion advances to state, but Smith is hopeful that at least one or two individuals will make the cut.

The girls are led by speedster Kelsey Fletcher, who competed at state track in the 800 meters and relays. Nancy Carlson, Kristina Chism, Sandra Rodriguez, Collette Beaulaurier, Brandi Keightley and Elsa Burchardt will make for a solid team, competing for two spots in the state meet.

Smith, who competed at Western Washington University in cross country and who ran eight marathons, once defeating the legendary runner Jim Fixx in the New York City Marathon, says his goal is to have boys' and girls' teams year after year.

"The nice thing about cross country is that you don't have to be 6-5 tall or practice jump shots endless hours to compete. You don't need a bunch of other people to practice with, and you can eat everything you want because cross country burns off the calories," Smith adds with a grin.

"I've had most of the runners in class, and they tend to be the best students in the school. They are hard-working kids, and they are competitive."New coach brings marathon experience to Naselle

The state "B" cross country event will be held in Pasco in November.

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