WEST MAUI - One of the Maui Interscholastic League's top cross country meets - the Westside Invitational - will be off and running this Saturday, Sept. 21, in Kapalua Resort on the old Village Golf Course site.
Formerly known as the Lahainaluna Invitational, the event is now hosted by Maui Preparatory Academy and Lahainaluna High School.
The meet will bring the top runners of the Valley Isle representing the two host schools as well as Baldwin, Maui High, King Kekaulike, Lanai, Molokai, Kamehameha Schools Maui, Kihei Charter, Hana and Saint Anthony High School to the picturesque setting of Kapalua.
The Lahainaluna High School boys cross country team (in red at center) takes off at the start of a race on Aug. 24. PHOTO BY GLEN PASCUAL.
Lahainaluna coach Dan Skousen and assistant Chad Ferguson lead a team that has surprised the MIL in the early going by taking the lead in the boys division.
Led by MIL 1,500- and 3,000-meter track champion Corban Kaikkonen and transfer student William Thorbecke, the Luna boys have charged out to take the early lead for what might be the school's first team title ever.
On the girls side, the Luna wahine are running in the middle of the pack in the team standings, but, according to Coach Dan, both teams are steadily improving through the hard work that leads to success in long distance running.
"Some of the team ran in the summer, and most of them are putting in 50-60 miles a week starting at 5:30 a.m.," he said from his health classroom on the Lahainaluna campus last week.
"I think they all realize that this is what it takes to get to the top, so they're putting in as much running as they can."
With Kaikkonen and Thorbecke setting the pace, the Luna boys are all running under 19 minutes and look to be the leaders for the MIL title and the seven spots to the state meet on Kauai at the end of October following the Maui Championships earlier in the month.
Rounding out the boys roster are Wyatt Chism, Nicholas Vierra, Kyle Schultz, Josh Chapital, Joseph Chism, Kevin Lammer, Ray Dawson, Nick Ramirez, Noah Taamu, Dean Omura, Kamal Golaube, John Mulholland and Zillah Lafey.
The Lady Luna cross country team is led by senior Kailey Sager, who is making a comeback from an injury, along with classmate Kirsten Gilchrist. The team roster is made up of Nicole Aceret, Joanne Aceret, Noemi Granados, Stephanie Haro, Ahtziri Orozco and Karina Arroyo-Haro.
Up in Napili at Maui Prep, coach Keenan Reader leads the Pueo team while also assuming new duties as the school's athletic director, to go with his work as college counselor and track coach.
"This year, we have our first official girls cross country team at Maui Prep," said Reader, during a break from his myriad of duties at the foothill campus in Napili.
"Both the boys and girls programs have grown over the years to the point where there are more kids involved in cross country than ever before."
The Pueo girls are led by junior Danielle Jefferies, a standout on the swimming team as well. The remainder of the girls team is made up of Jamie Advincula, Sophie Johnston, Alexa Narayan, Jessica Kingwell, Ember Hirsch, May Samari and Sarah Wilhelm.
The boys team will be sparked by seniors Santana Huck and Parker Robb. They are joined by Kieran Clark, Rich Sargent and Josh Ancheta on the Maui Prep roster.
Both Reader and Skousen hope to take groups of student athletes to Kauai for the state meet.
"We're hoping to take 11 runners to Kauai, and that will cost around $3,000 or more. We're starting up some fundraisers, but we're also asking for help from the community to raise money so that all the kids can go. Any donation would be deeply appreciated," said Coach Dan.
"These kids have worked really hard to get to the top, and I hope we can take them all to states."