With her sister graduated and her coach relocated out of state, rising junior Stormy Wallace (1432) is in position to assume the leader leadership role of defending CIF-State Division IV champion Sage Creek. (Photo: DeAnna Turner)
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CARLSBAD -- This is Stormy Wallace's Sage Creek High cross country team and she knows it.
A year after her sister, Skyler, led the Bobcats to the State Division IV team title in a record time, the 16-year-old junior knows the spotlight will be on her and things figure to be a whole lot different.
One can start with the fact coach Jacob Feiring, who moved to Seattle just before the San Diego Section championships a year ago but came back to keep the team focused on winning the state title, has been replaced by former Poway High coach Bob Muschek.
Then there's the fact three absolute standouts -- Skyler (second in the state), Lavanya Pandey (fourth in the state) and Natalie Huestis (23rd in the state) -- have graduated, with Skyler Wallace, who would go on to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships, now running for Northern Arizona University.
Throw in the potential chaos of starting the school year with distance learning and the season being moved to a never-before starting time of mid-December, and the Bobcats will be looking for some serious leadership skills from Stormy to keep the goal of a repeat alive.
"It feels cool to be a leader," said Stormy, 16, who has been training on her own since schools were dismissed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I was a vice president of the student body once in junior high, but this is different. I've always looked up to Skyler as the leader but the two of us grew up being leaders. It's in our blood. I've tried to keep the other members of the team informed over the summer.
"I'm a mixture in that I usually lead by example but when it's really needed, I can be vocal, too."
STORMY 2019 SUPERLATIVES
- 6th - Mt. SAC (3 miles) - 18:16
- 3rd - North County Conference (5K) - 18:48.40
- 2nd - San Diego Section Finals (5K) - 18:00.90
- 6th - CIF-State Meet (5K) - 18:04.50
- 16th - Foot Locker West Regional (5K) - 17:35.40 PR
Usually, Stormy would get to pull together the returning varsity and JV runners, plus incoming freshmen like Kaya Scuba, on the first day of school to see how the team shapes up. That would have come after a summer of team training. Last year, for example, Pandey had put in a fantastic summer that allowed her to move into the team's No. 2 spot.
But with social distancing, no one is sure what the affect of not having a track season in the spring or on-campus learning this fall will have on important ingredients like team unity.
Stormy said she adhered to the social distancing rules -- mostly.
"I really wanted to see what kind of shape I was in after the breakout run I had in the Foot Locker Western Regionals," she said. "I'd been training with my sister and my mom (Michelle Cox, the 1992 Division II CIF-State champion) was coaching us and we were curious.
"So, we decided to do time trials for the 1600 and 3200 by sneaking on the track at La Costa Canyon High."
With Skyler setting the pace, Stormy -- who has never beaten her sister in a real race -- stayed right behind until Skyler veered off. The result was a 5:13 for 1600 meters and 10:55 for 3200.
That's a 10-second PR in the shorter race and the 17-second improvement in the metric 2-mile produced her first-ever sub-11 minute 3200.
"It was a perfect day," Stormy Wallace said of the 3200. "We either had to sneak on at LCC -- we weren't the only ones there -- or go on a road trip to Arizona or something. I just wanted to get times for some of the virtual competitions.
"For the 1600, it was super-hot and I really couldn't believe my time. The time trials were two weeks apart and showed me what might have been if we'd been able to run this spring."
So much will be different for Stormy after what some considered a bit of a down year in 2019 after a sensational freshman season.
There was a reason.
"It turns out my iron levels in my body weren't right but it took some time to figure it out," explained Stormy. "By the end of cross country season, when I'd adjusted, I improved my time in the state finals by 26 seconds."
Stormy was asked if the Foot Locker West Regional, scheduled the first week in December, is still on, would she enter or just get ready for the season which can start Dec. 14?
"Oh, absolutely I'll run Foot Locker," she said excitedly. "Really, it's the only competition that is still scheduled at that time of the year."
Stormy fully realizes that for the first time in a long time, athletes from the West Regional would be on an even plane with the rest of the nation, which holds its regionals the week of the California state championships.
As a result, California athletes run a gauntlet of league, sectionals, state, and regionals before they even toe the line for the National Championships in Balboa Park. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, league, sectionals and state championships won't be held until March 2021 rather than in November 2020.
"After how I ran at the Western Regionals last year, I can hardly wait," said Stormy.
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Inserted photo above: Sophomore Stormy Wallace (center) follows senior teammate Lavanya Pandey during the team sweepstakes race at the 2019 Mt. SAC Invitational. (Photo: Lizette Adams)
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CHECK OUT HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 2019 CIF-STATE DIVISION IV GIRLS CHAMPIONSHIP RACE