PORT ORCHARD — Most people don’t think of cross country as a team sport, but at South Kitsap, it’s ingrained in the program’s DNA.
So when senior Paxton DePoe was asked to reflect on the biggest moment of her career, her answer wasn’t a surprise.
“Qualifying the first time for state my freshman year was a big one — it was a team moment,” DePoe said. “It had been years since South Kitsap had gone as a team.”
DePoe has been the heart and soul of the cross country team for the past four years and a big contributor to the track and field team in the middle and longer distance races. The Gonzaga-bound runner is 2019’s Port Orchard Independent Female Athlete of the Year.
South Kitsap finished 16th among the 16 teams that qualified for the 4A state meet in 2015, but as the group matured and added talent, they moved up to 15th in 2016, sixth in 2017 and, most recently, fourth in 2018.
DePoe has been a big part of that success. Head cross country coach Ed Santos described her as a runner who always rose to the occasion of the big meet and was diligent about properly building toward the end of the season so she was at her best on the biggest stages.
“She’s been fantastic for us,” Santos said. “She’s a great big meet competitor.”
She ran her best time for South Kitsap at the 2017 4A state meet. In a loaded field that featured big senior classes at traditional powers such as Lewis and Clark, Camas, Issaquah and Tahoma, DePoe crossed the finish line in a time of 18:55.30, which put her in 31st place.
DePoe finished higher as a senior this past fall, taking 16th place with a time of 19:15.60. In both her junior and senior years, she qualified for and ran at the NXR Northwest Regional Championships.
In the spring, DePoe liked to switch gears and run shorter distances. She qualified for the 4A state track meet in the 800-meter run all four of her years at South Kitsap and twice qualified in the mile.
“I ran a 3200 this season, but eight laps on a track gets old,” DePoe said.
Her final 800-meter race as a Wolf was memorable. Coming down the last stretch at this year’s state meet, DePoe overtook Olympia’s Katelyn Rigg and nearly chased down Brooke Wallace of Glacier Peak before she ran out of real estate. She settled four a fourth-place finish with a time of 2:15.27, just .08 away from her best time.
“Today was the day to do big stuff,” DePoe said following the race. “I was painfully close to my PR.”
At Gonzaga, where she plans to study business, DePoe will join a growing distance program. She had visited a few different universities across the western U.S., but was sold on the program, the academics and the atmosphere of the community. The Bulldogs compete in both cross country and track as well as indoor track.
Several of her fellow recruits were also present as competitors at this year’s state track meet, which gave her a chance to meet up with some future teammates.
“A lot of the recruits are pretty close, which is exciting,” DePoe said.
Past Independent Female Athlete of the Year recipients:
2018: Savannah Foster
2017: Paxton DePoe
2016: Emma York
2015: Hayley Romo
2014: Hayley Romo
2013: Miranda Caballero
2012: Maile Keanu
2011: Kelsey Callaghan
2010: Riley Dopps
2009: Stephanie Osterdahl
2008: Kaileigh Westermann
2007: Madison Rousell
2006: Madison Rousell
2005: Brittany Miller
2004: Stephanie Davison