Prior to Saturday’s Essex Invitational, Katie White will walk the course at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center and know every turn, every incline, every dip.
Random rocks don’t go unnoticed, either.
A former Burlington High School standout, White enters her third season as head coach of the Essex girls cross country team. And her personal experiences on local racing trails — such as the hilly terrain in Williston — are proving valuable to the Hornets.
“I’ve run at Catamount now so many times I can’t even count,” said White, a 2005 BHS graduate. “I can tell them where any little rock is on the course. They are like, ‘How do you know that?'”
Added Essex runner Rose Monahan: “Katie will be walking the course and say, ‘Oh, I remember this and here’s what you all need to know.'”
One of the state’s top runners during her high school days, White, along with her older sister, Kerry, guided the Seahorses to the 2002 Division I crown — the year before Champlain Valley began its current era of dominance with nine titles in the past 10 years.
The Redhawks, once again, are favorites, along with a veteran St. Johnsbury outfit. But the Hornets, third a year ago, return several key pieces to a lineup that should remain within striking distance.
“You don’t let yourself set limits. Yeah, they are good teams, but obviously we are pretty good too,” said Monahan, who took seventh in last year’s state championships. “We don’t get negative at all — anything can happen.”
Joining Monahan in Essex’s lineup are Feora Leveille, Jenna Emery and Charlotte Murphy. Leveille and Emery went second and fourth, respectively, in the JV race at states last year.
“We have a good amount of team depth in our 5-through-7 spots — that group is packed in,” White said. “That’s hopefully going to be one of our strengths, banking on pack running.”
White will also lean on Monahan, who’s also dealing with an IT band issue in her knee that sprung up following cross country and affected her indoor and outdoor track and seasons.
“We are managing her IT band right now and we did a mile time trial and it was the fastest mile she’s ever run, not to give any secrets away,” White said. “I think she’ll really surprise herself, I think she’s going to have her best season.”
With a blend of veterans and newcomers — 12 freshmen dot the roster — White wants a focused effort on the mental side of running.
“We are young and racing gets peoples’ nerves going,” White said. “Believing in yourself and knowing you have the skills and training will be a big part of our season.”
And that extends to getting acclimated to adverse conditions or grinding out hill workouts.
“In reality, if you train in the heat, in the rain, in the mud, you are going to race well in the heat, rain and mud,” Monahan said. “If we can do this in practice, we can do it in the race.”