LAHAINA - It is indeed a daunting task to coach cross country at the high school level here on Maui, where competitive long distance running requires training dedication with minimum rewards for the student athletes compared to other more high-profile sports.
Throughout the Maui Interscholastic League, however, are coaches that reflect the drive that moves long distance running to higher recognition. Dan Skousen and George Watson, the Lahainaluna High School cross country program mentors, are indeed representative of such leadership.
Both coaches ran collegiately - Skousen at BYU Hawaii and Watson at Stanford - and both have experience in coaching. Coach Dan led the Hana High School running program for four years before coming to Lahainaluna three years ago, while Coach George is into his fourth year with the Lunas.
Cross country team members include (from left): front — Wyatt Chism, Brennen Sprenger, Corban Kaikkonnen and Jojo Chism; back row — Erin Perdergast, Mikela Cabagua, Haleigh Berko, Kailey Sager, Stephanie Lawless, Kirsten Gilchrist and coaches Dan Skousen and George Watson.
"It's tough training for cross country," said Skousen, a health teacher at Lahainaluna, from Boarders Field on campus last week. "We've had much attrition this year with grade problems and the difficulty with getting the popularity of running up. It's hot, and it's tough to get the kids excited about running here in Lahaina."
Despite these difficulties that have led to a thin roster this year, there have been several standouts for the Lunas. Senior Eryn Pendergast has run for four years for the girls team, and juniors Kailey Sager, the team captain, and Stephanie Lawless are poised to qualify for the state championships on the Big Island on Oct. 26.
For the boys, junior Corban Kaikkonen has raced to the top of the MIL over the last two years and currently is one of the top five runners on the Valley Isle. Classmate Wyatt Chism has also excelled and is poised to qualify for states.
The girls roster also includes senior Kirsten Gilchrist and freshmen Haleigh Berko and Mikela Cabagua; and the boys team was made up of sophomore Joseph Chism and freshmen Brennen Sprenger and Shawn Takahashi.
Coach Skousen reported that the team has been practicing since early August and is looking forward to the MIL Championships and the state meet in the upcoming weeks.