NELKE: Quite the run they’re on at Timberlake

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Nestled among the trees on the northern edge of Kootenai County, Timberlake High sits in a unique setting.

Part of that uniqueness explains why the Tigers have been among the top cross country programs in their 3A classification since coach Shawn Lawler started the program in 2004.

“The trails across from Timberlake and around Spirit Lake are phenomenal,” Lawler said. “I think we have some of the best training ground in the state. We rarely run on anything but soft surfaces and have all the hills we need. We can simulate workouts on the three state courses within a few miles of the high school.”

MOST RECENTLY, Timberlake’s girls finished second, the boys fourth, at the state meet Oct. 27 at Lewiston Orchards.

Abigail Peightal finished eighth, freshman Sydnee Hotmer 11th and sophomore Megan Hatrock 15th for the Tigers, who came in second to Sugar-Salem for the girls team title, 45-63.

It was the 10th time in the last 11 years Timberlake’s girls brought home a trophy from state.

“I was pleased to see our girls compete well at the state meet again this year,” Lawler said. “Our No. 3 girl, Sage Gervais, was sick and didn’t race. Obviously that hurt our chances to upset Sugar, but others stepped up and ran well in her absence. We would have needed one more girl to run sub-20 (minutes) to beat them. Abby ran well and set a season personal record; we figured she would be in the fifth through 10th range. She was in sixth most of the race before being passed by two girls from Kimberly. She has been a top-10 state finisher all four seasons. Honestly, all the girls ran well, however, a few had a great day. Sydnee Hotmer and Emma Howard (20th) both ran massive PRs and truly stepped up to help their team.”

Logan Hunt finished 18th to lead Timberlake’s boys, who brought home a trophy for the seventh time since 2005.

“The boys were a nice surprise,” Lawler said. “We graduated quite a few seniors last year, leading us to believe that this would be a rebuilding year. With summer training, toughness, and smart racing, the boys proved to be much better than we expected. In the last 800 meters at the state meet, our boys passed 12-15 guys. Their willingness to finish on empty for each other is the reason they brought home their sixth straight state trophy.”

ALL TOLD, Timberlake cross country teams have won 19 district titles and brought home 17 state trophies since 2004. The Tiger boys have qualified for state all 15 years and have won nine district titles. Their best finish at state was second in 2005; they’ve been third three times since.

The girls have qualified for state 14 times in 15 years with 10 state trophies, including back-to-back-to-back state titles in 2009, ’10 and ’11. They’ve also been second twice and third twice.

“I think the success of the program relates to the type of student-athletes at Timberlake, the junior high program, coached by my wife Stacie, the training area — we run on soft surfaces every day — and the consistency of coaches,” Lawler said. “My wife started the junior high program from scratch a few years after I started the high school program. My fellow coaches have been invaluable. Jim Simpson (who coached for four seasons and is currently the athletic director) was awesome to coach with. Molly Miller (girls basketball assistant coach and wife of Timberlake head coach Matt Miller) has been in the program for the last three years. Her ability to connect with and challenge our runners to push their limits has been tremendous.”

Geography, of course, isn’t the only reason Timberlake has been so successful in cross country.

Lawler also points to support from the student body, school staff, fellow coaches (particularly football), an “amazing” booster club, and administrators.

“We are treated as an equal and are truly valued,” Lawler said.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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