Foster cross-country coach Bill Napier knew he had a special runner the instant he saw Yohana Salzano don her shoes and hit the track three years ago.
Then a seventh grader, she could run with boys three years older than her. Now a sophomore for the Bulldogs, she is ready to take on the Class 2A competition after placing 12th at the Class 3A state meet a year ago.
“She trains with the boys,” Napier said. “Not just that, she wants to work with the top boys. And she’s capable of it.”
Salzano won the Seamount League meet last season, finishing more than two minutes faster than the next best freshman. She then placed seventh at districts, before her strong finish at state. Amazingly, the gymnast and soccer player has had her early success without much offseason cross-country training.
“She’s not big on the offseason stuff,” Napier said. “Once she figures out that she wants to make it a priority she’ll do really well. I’m just trying not to push her too hard.”
Napier said Salzano has been a boon for numbers on the girls team because she’s always recruiting new runners. In his 10 years as the Foster coach, Napier said getting enough girls to field a full team is usually been a big struggle.
“I’m expecting about 40 kids this year, which is a nice size,” he said. “And I have some more girls finally. I’ve been pushing hard for years to get a girls squad together, at the very least I should have a full team.”
The Bulldogs had as many as five female runners race last season, but had just two in many meets.
Junior Michelle Banos is another strong runner for the girls squad, Napier said she has a shot to make districts.
On the boys side Foster lost four seniors who ran at districts last season. The team returns three others that made it that far in the postseason in Zakariya Omar, Alex Lindekugel and Devonte Green.
Omar placed 21st at districts last season and 55th at state. He should be the Bulldogs’ top runner. Omar peaked near the end of the season when he dropped below 16 minutes for his final two meets.
Lindekugel worked through shin splints that turned into stress fractures last season. Now healthy, Napier is looking for big things from the senior.
“He finished the season but he just wasn’t himself,” Napier said. “He would have really good meets then just fall off.”
Lindekugel ran his best time of the season in his first race, the Fort Steilacoom invite, where he ran a time of 17 minutes, 43.1 seconds.
Devonte Green is a standout sprinter as well as a district-level cross-country runner. Green made districts in track and field in the 200-meter dash and 4×100 relay.
All of the Foster runners that advance as far as districts should see a boost in their placements as the Bulldogs dropped from 3A to 2A this season.
For example, Salzano’s state time of 19:01 would have placed her fourth at the 2A state meet last season.
It’s clear the Foster cross-country program is on its way up and that’s largely due to Napier’s attitude. He accepts all athletes on to his teams, not just those looking at cross country as a destination sport.
“I’ve got my core runners who try to go someplace,” he said. “I’ve got my kids who are trying to get in shape for other sports, then I’ve got kids who just want to get healthy and have fun. I try to cater to them all.”
Napier also focuses on invite and postseason races, instead of regular-season dual meets.
“The dual meets are really just practice,” he said. “I want my kids to focus on bigger invitationals.”
Napier uses the dual meets mostly to focus on JV runners and figure out which ones can step up to varsity to fill spots.
The Bulldogs started the season at the Seamount Class Meet Sept. 9 and heads to their first invitational Sept. 18 at the Fort Steilacoom Invitational.
FOSTER CROSS COUNTRY: AT A GLANCE
Coach: Bill Napier (10th year)
Top returners: Zakariya Omar (boys), Yohana Salzano (girls)
Top newcomer: Michelle Banos
Strength: Top-end runners. Salzano should be in the running for a girls 2A state title, while Omar, Alex Lindekugel and Devonte Green give the Bulldogs a strong shot a districts if they all stay healthy.
Weakness: Depth, especially on the girls side.
Big meet: Concordia Puma Classic, Oct. 16
Sept. 9 – Class Meet at Evergreen
Sept. 18 – Fort Steilacoom Invitational
Sept. 23 – Hazen, Kennedy Catholic, Foster and Evergreen at Foster
Oct. 2 – Tomahawk Twilight Invitational at Cedarcrest Golf Course (Marysville)
Oct. 7 – Evergreen, Lindbergh, Renton and Foster at Lindbergh
Oct. 9 – Hole in the Wall XC Invitational at Lakewood High School
Oct. 14 – Evergreen, Highline, Tyee and Foster at Evergreen
Oct. 16 – Concordia Puma Classic at Fernhill Park (Portland)
Oct. 23 – 2A sub-district meet at Fort Steilacoom Park
Oct. 30 – 2A West Central District meet at American Lake
Nov. 6 – 2A state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course (Pasco)