NXN Champs Summit Have Made Seamless Transition To Track

By Logan Stanley - MileSplit Correspondent

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This is the word Carol McLatchie, one of the head coaches of the Bend Summit High School track and field team, uses to describe her vaunted girls distance program's transition from the cross country season to the oval this spring in Oregon.

Would you expect anything less from the defending Nike Cross Nationals champs? 

Said unit includes juniors--and twin sisters--Fiona Max and Isabel Max, Kelsey Gripekoven and Azza Borovicka Swanson, as well as stellar freshman Teaghan Knox. That unit, running as Central Oregon, banded together to win NXN this past fall. They were the first team from the West Coast ever to do so.

When looking at the marks from the Summit girls from this track season, it's easy to understand McLatchie's sentiments. Carol and her husband Jim, who are the co-coaches for the cross country team and for the distance runners in track at Summit, are at the helm of one the nation's deepest rosters.

This season alone, Summit has seen five different girls--Fiona Max, Gripekoven, Borovicka Swanson and Knox--run 4:55 or faster in the 1500m. In the 800m, there are four--Fiona and Isabel Max, Borovicka Swanson and Knox--who have gone sub-2:20.

Maybe the most impressive stat of them all? Their age. Everybody is a junior or younger.

"It makes the coaching part a bit easier," Jim McLatchie said about the depth of talent. "We got a pretty good reputation, so we don't really have to motivate the kids too much because they know coming in that this is a good program and if they want to belong in it, they gotta do something."

Despite this success, the team continues to hold a dark horse attitude. Yes, these girls are fast. Supremely fast. But they haven't forgotten where they started, what it felt like to not be in the limelight, to finish last at NXN in 2017.

The Max sisters lead the charge, and rightfully so. Fiona is one of the top distance runners in the nation. Her time of 4:32 in the 1500m is US No. 3 and her 9:46 in the 3000m is US No. 10. Isabel is not far behind either; she's currently No.1 in Oregon for the 800m (2:12).

"What I've really noticed is a little bit of an underdog mentality," Fiona said. "We really embraced that last season. Just the idea that we're not veterans coming in with a lot of expectations of where we should be or who we are. We've got nothing to lose, but we also have so much to prove.

"If we do try and go for No. 2 (NXN championship) this year, we have to keep in mind this season that what really brought us to nationals is just the fact that we were so surprised to be there and everything just felt like a gift. That's a topic that comes up, reminding our teammates, 'Remember, we might have a target on our backs and other teams are just as hungry.' We have to expect that. And our work is not done here.

"One of our coaches' [Peter Thompson] friends, he always talk about 'keeping the cap on the kettle." He's an English guy. He always talks about 'keeping the cap on the kettle.' Basically, it's about not letting that steam out leading up to the race. Staying focused and level-headed. 'Keeping the cap on the kettle' is something we joke about or will actually put to use the entire season."

"The backbone of our team is respect," Isabel added. "Respect for each other, respect for our coaches, respect for the sport. I think it's important we're not coming in with huge egos and inflated heads."

While the Summit girls are certainly focused on posting fast times, what's been pacing them this spring is focusing in on the little details and of the process itself. Things like making sure each runner is getting enough sleep or eating a snack in between workouts. This line of thinking is evident.

"You win the race before the race starts," Isabel said.

That thinking trickles down, and its effect can be seen throughout the program.

With the regular season winding down for the track and field season, that means championships are on the horizon. While the McLatchie's said they don't think they will win a girls team title, they are both very optimistic about individual titles.

Fiona is gunning for a double in the 1500m and 3000m at the Oregon State Activities Association (OSAA) Class 6A track and field championships, and is the favorite heading into both races. Isabel will be in the 800m, where she'll be the favorite as well. Knox is currently No. 9 in Oregon in the 800m and No. 9 in the 1500m, while Swanson is No. 17 and No. 25. 

As for national relays aspirations, it's a bit harder in terms of logistics.

Fiona and Isabel both said the team is considering sending a 4x800m relay team--consisting of the Max sisters, Knox and Borovicka Swanson--to New Balance Nationals Outdoor at Aggie Stadium in North Carolina next month.

But the McLatchie's noted that there aren't sufficient financial resources to make the trip happen and said it would be on the girls and their parents to coordinate.

If it happens or not, it should be noted that a Summit team (minus Fiona Max) just ran 9:12.13 in the 4x800m relay to place first at the Nike Jesuit Relays, seven seconds ahead of 6A competitor Jesuit and a US No. 8 mark.

The Summit girls defied expectations this past fall. They have shown this spring that their performance at NXN was no fluke--they're really just getting started.

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You can contact MileSplit Correspondent Logan Stanley at lstanleyscribe@gmail.com or on Twitter at @LSscribe