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Sunset finishes with top-four runners to roll to victory over Metro League rivals

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset junior Ember Stratton and sophomore Lucy Huelskamp took first and second overall for the Apollos against Aloha.

The trio of Sunset superstars put their spikes on the aqua blue-and-white oval and jump-started their kicks toward the finish line 200 meters away en route to a one-two-three Apollo finish.

Junior Ember Stratton took first overall with oncoming sophomore Lucy Huelskamp right on her heels. Senior Kelly Makin pulled around the track with not a soul in sight and cruised through the tape at Aloha High School on Sep. 13.

The Metro League has become accustomed to such a Sunset sweep over the past year or so. Frankly, there is no better triad of racers at the top of any program at the Class 6A classification — or any state level for that matter.

But as the three stars huddled together and caught their breath under a collection of oak trees, the fourth Apollo to emerge from Aloha's urban-esque course might be equally as consequential to Sunset's district and state title hopes down the road as the decorated trio themselves. Senior Cali Corkran came forth out of a cluster of similarly timed entrants and placed fourth overall (19:34), setting a seasonal record in the process to stamp Sunset's 17-52 win over Aloha. Corkran was followed in junior Na'ama Nevo (20:22), who took seventh overall and sophomore Jasmine Wong (20:25).

"Each day we're looking at ways to make ourselves better whether that's pushing ourselves hard or recovering," Corkran said. "We definitely think of our team goals, like beating Jesuit and getting up there at state. But, we have to take it day-by-day, what can I do that's best for my team and what's best for myself to make myself a better runner?"

The feared talents of Stratton, Makin and Huelskamp are nationally renowned. Simply, Sunset goes as they do. But, if the Apollos keep getting strong showings from Corkran, Nevo and company, their potential to knock archnemesis Jesuit accelerates. Few teams are as tight-knit or singularly motivated toward success than Sunset. They've tasted district and state titles in the past and want more.

"We just want to work together, stay strong together and support each other, so that we can be the best we can be as a team, holistically," Corkran said. "The level of commitment on this team is really deep. The top people work really hard, but so do the people behind. Cohesively, we all want to get up there and support each other in that endeavor."

Sunset stayed within striking distance of the Crusaders a year ago and with good health and progressional improvement from inside the program hope to close that slight gap. During training runs and even meets themselves, there's a "competitive nature" about the Apollos, to push each other, to not become complacent with slow advancement, Corkran said.

But for a program that competes at the national level, it's not as gung-ho as one might assume.

"In the competition, there's still a lot of humanity to it," Corkran said. "That's the most key thing we have. It's a family atmosphere. We want the best for each other. We all want to be at the front, but we definitely work together."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Westview and Aloha girls cross country teams will be in a tight battle for third place in the Metro League this season.

Aloha fended off Westview 52-64 to extract a slight measure of vengeance for the Wildcats snatching their Metro rival's customary automatic state berth last season.

The Warriors were led by sophomore Emily Foote, who took fifth overall with a 20:04 finish. Foote said coming into the meet Aloha's focus was on getting the best of the Wildcats and trying to stay up with Sunset.

"We were motivated," Foote said. "We're going to fight for that third spot against Westview and Sunset was a great competition, too. We want to go back to state, but it's going to be close."

The battle for third place in Metro should again come down to the district championship meet itself. Aloha and Westview, gauging by Wednesday's results, will be in the thick of the fracas. Foote was followed in by Westview sophomore Irene Nagasaka (20:12), who took sixth overall. Aloha freshman Keira Cole (20:22) took ninth overall and was backed by Westview junior Emily Taylor who finished ninth (20:24). Following Aloha seniors Grace Greaves (20:39, 11th place) and Kelly Nickel (16th overall, 21:11) came Westview's Dierdre McKay (17th, 21:19). Aloha junior Nyah Songster took 19th (21:35) and Westview senior Isabelle Marcantuono placed 20th (21:36).

"All of our girls are pretty evenly matched with them," Foote said. "Last year it came down just a couple of points and this year we're trying to get back up there. A lot of girls were injured last year, so just staying healthy and keep training hard will get us there."

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