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Sunset runners running Miles that Matter on August 23, raising money for Shriner's HC

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Sunset senior Lucy Huelskamp is the top runner for the Apollo girls team this fall.

Only a fully operational, altogether thriving cross country program can lose a duel district/state championship like Ethan Reese and possibly put out the best team it's ever had the year after. 

Sunset has high expectations in place for both its boys and girls cross country programs every season. The Apollos are the standard-bearer for the public schools at the Class 6A level. They produce individual state champions like Reese, Ember Stratton, Kelly Makin and more and then somehow replace them with runners of similar ability. Sunset, along with Summit who joined the 6A ranks a year ago, is Jesuit's antagonist every fall. The two heavyweights push one another when they race side by side, pack by pack, and when they train in the summers and winters albeit remotely. They are on each other's minds, no doubt about it. It's a rivalry that's competitively contentious.

Not having a racer like Reese would hurt any program, yet the Apollos just might have the necessary personnel to at least tug on the Crusaders' cape, if not take them down completely. Sunset senior Mason Gerwig placed fourth overall at the Metro League District Championship meet last year while juniors Collin Beyer and Cooper Kingsbury took ninth and eleventh, respectively. Add in junior Alex King (15th in Metro) last year, senior Carson Cummins (19th) and Sunset sports four runners who were top-20 finishers individually a year ago. Senior David Cummings and sophomore Ben Balazs round out an Apollo pack that will put some heat on Jesuit as the fall unfolds. Keep in mind Sunset 37 team points at the district meet were just 11 behind Jesuit in the district results. The Apollos also placed third at the 6A state meet. Sunset head coach Dan Neeway said his boys believe that the Apollos could have all seven runners finish under the 16-minute mark at the league meet if conditions allow it.

"This might be the most talented (boys) group that we have ever assembled," Neeway said. "We have a strong group of boys. And deep. We'll cross our fingers and hope that fortune sees fit to give us the breaks that allow us to reach our full potential this fall. We want to be the best versions of ourselves."

Senior Lucy Huelskamp is a highly decorated, supremely driven competitor for the girls who's enjoyed state championship both in cross country and on the track. She's flanked by sophomore Eva McIlraith, seniors Jasmine Wang, Kayah Ryerson, Sophie Gardner, and Jitse Deboutte, junior Anna Cummings and freshman Paige Wiley.

"Lucy is an amazing runner," Neeway said. "She is surrounded by hard-working girls who are enjoying the process of getting better and exploring their potential as runners. Our girls want to continue the tradition of advancing to the state meet and seeing their name on the shortlist for contenders for a state trophy."

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Sunset senior Mason Gerwig (far right) leads a talented pack of Apollo boy cross country runner this season.

Sunset will have its fair share of stiff tests, especially early in the season. After taking on Jesuit and Aloha in their regular-season opener at Aloha High on Sep. 4, the Apollos are competing in the Tahoma Coed Relays  (with a section that races thigh-deep through a lake according to Neeway) at Lake Wilderness State Park in Washington. Then Sunset flies to the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Southern California (with a trip to Disneyland included) from Sep. 20-21 before competing in the annual Nike Portland XC event at Blue Lake Park the week after. It should be a fun-filled, highly competitive early slate as Sunset readies for the postseason in late October and early November.

For the past six years, the Apollo long-distance program has put on a Miles That Matter fundraiser benefiting both the Sunset cross country team and Shriners Hospital for Children with its mission to provide the highest quality care to children with special healthcare. Sunset's goal is to raise $15,000, half of which would benefit Shriners Hospital for Children (SHC) with the other 50% directly supporting its cross country program. All funds raised above and beyond our goals every year has gone directly to SHC. In five years, Sunset has raised more than $60,000 for SHC. The Apollos return with our fundraising goal of $15,000, hoping to donate at least $10,000 to SHC.

"We are committed to our goal for SHC as they have done so much for us and the community," Neeway said.

Funds raised for Sunset cross country support its competitive and ever-growing program's needs including subsidizing team travel expenses, providing scholarship opportunities to participate in Team Camp and other activities providing athletic wear for teammates and coaching education. Miles that Matter begins on Friday, August 23rd on the Sunset High School track and finishes on Saturday, August 24th with a celebratory breakfast. Current team members, alumni, coaches, and family members will run as a team for 24 hours to collectively reach 1,500 miles to draw further attention to the Apollos' cause.

"Generous donors like you will be the key to our success and will make it possible for Miles that Matter to support Sunset Cross Country and provide local children and families with the special health care they need from Shriners Hospital for Children," Neeway said. "We hope that we can count on your support to help us in our endeavor. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions."


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