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Gateway runners eye state championships

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The 2019 Gateway cross country team. Top row, from left: Jace Worley, Hannah Lilley, Kayley Smith, Kessia Smalley and Chloe Garnand. Bottom row, from left: Wyatt Curry, Sarah Lilley, Taylor Higgins and Elizabeth Berry. Not pictured: Sam Domschott. (Submitted Photo)

Gateway Christian School’s 2019 cross country season is off to a great start with 100% of the team returning from last year plus a few additions.

Perry Toles is in his ninth season as head coach for the varsity and junior high teams and believes this is one of the strongest teams he has ever coached. “The biggest difference is that the team committed to run over the summer,” Toles explains. “We started the season well conditioned and ready to compete.”

The young Gateway team has runners representing every class. Kessia Smalley is the Warriors’ only senior who is competing in her second year of cross country. Smalley joined the team late last year to help the girls’ team qualify for the state championships.

Junior Taylor Higgins was recruited to the team by a friend two years ago and now, in her third season, is looking to make a return trip to state. Coach Toles says that Taylor’s initial reason for joining cross country was to stay in shape for her primary sport – basketball. “I think she may be finding out that cross country is moving up on her priority list,” Toles said with a grin.

Sisters Hannah and Sarah Lilley are in the sophomore class and are expected to be Gateway’s top two runners like last year. “Hannah and Sarah are our most experienced runners,” Toles explains. “They have been running competitively from an early age in USA Track & Field Junior Olympic events.” Currently, the twins are ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the combined 1A and 2A Class, sandwiching Hagerman’s senior Cerria Lucero who was third at state two years ago and sixth last year.

Freshman Kayley Smith rounds out the returning girls for the Warriors. “I was so happy to take Kayley to her first state championship as an eighth grader last year. She had her best race of the season at state, which just happened to be on her 14th birthday,” her coach said.

Jace Worley is the other freshman on the team and Gateway’s only boy running varsity cross country. Jace has run middle school cross country for the last three years and his coach says his early-season times indicate that he will have a good chance of qualifying for state as an individual. “It kind of depends upon how many full teams end up at our district meet. We have a crazy large district consisting of 14 schools from both 1A and 2A. Only the top six teams qualify for state and then only the top four individuals from non-qualifying teams can qualify,” Toles says.

Coach Toles also has two Gateway eighth grade girls moving up to run varsity beginning in October. Chloe Garnand and Elizabeth Berry have been running for Coach Toles for the last several years and Toles said they will make this strong team even stronger. “This is the first time that we have ever had a full team of seven runners,” Toles said, speaking about the girls’ team. “Usually we are just barely scoring as a team with the minimum of five runners.”

Two other younger athletes also train with the team, Sam Domschott in seventh grade and Wyatt Curry in sixth.

The Warrior cross country team has had a light competitive schedule during the month of September, but in October will be competing every weekend leading up to their district meet on a very challenging Fort Stanton course where they hope to qualify every varsity runner for the following weekend’s state championships.