A Season To Remember

JPII Running History: The 2019 Pope John Paul II Girls Cross-Country Team Historic Season


The JPII girls' cross-country team of 2019 was an ultimate underdog, with only one season under their belt as a team, forming the year before in 2018. As a coach, it can be challenging to pick a favorite team due to the many student-athletes one meets along the way. However, this team is up there in my book, including teams I managed over the years outside of running as an executive in the workplace.                                                                       

I have never seen anything like what happened to this team. It is still hard to believe what this team accomplished in such a short period, with several girls who had never run at all or cross-country. The outcome of this story is better than any underdog movie I’ve seen. They did in real life what is made up many times on the big screen.

I attribute the success of the 2019 season to the grace of God. There is no other logical explanation.


In 2018, we established the first-ever girls' cross-country team at Pope John Paul II High School (JPII) in Lacey, Washington. Despite being a new team, the JPII girls qualified for the Washington State High School Cross-Country Championships in their first year of competition. Moreover, the Lady Eagles also managed to secure the Washington State High School State Academic Team Championship in their cross-country classification in the same year. The girls' team had an incredible first season.

In 2019, during season two, the Eagle girls from JPII became the Washington State Cross Country Champions by defeating the three-time defending state cross country champions. This was a historic achievement as it marked the first athletic championship win for JPII, which is a ten-year-old school.    

The JPII girls have probably made history by becoming the first team in the state to win a cross-country state championship in only their second year since starting the team. However, since the state records only document some teams' initial start date, verifying this achievement for certain is impossible.                

The state record cross-country historian, Rod Wilcox, had this to say in his 2019 Girls' team summary: “…Pope John Paul 2 not only returned (to the state cross-country championships in our second year with a team) but ran away with the title. This is probably a record, but not even I track years of existence compared to titles”.

How the girls won the state championship in such a short span of time is truly inspiring and historical. Even now, I sometimes find it hard to believe that this team managed to achieve the state championship title. I have been fortunate enough to coach many state championship teams throughout my career. However, the state championship won by this team was significantly different from any state championship team I've coached.

The JPII girls' team was the smallest school ever to win the state title in their division since it began in 2006.

The Beginnings Of A Team

Some of the varsity girls in the JPII team had never run before they joined the cross-country team or had never run cross-country. It was amazing to witness the team's incredible transformation in such a short time frame.               

The team's hard work, determination, faith, and ability to overcome multiple obstacles were beautiful to watch over the following months. Seeing each team member's self-confidence grow each week was a fantastic blessing. All the girls on the team are very different, with unique abilities on and off the sports field.

The JPII girls had their fair share of ups and downs throughout their state championship season, but they persevered through it all. They had many high points but also experienced some low points where they had to pick themselves up again and keep pushing forward. One parent pointed out that "winning a championship doesn't require perfection." However, it does require hard work, smart decisions, learning from mistakes, and faith that everything will work out.

One Captains Perspective Of The 2019 Season                   

One prominent example of the heart of the 2019 girls' team and how the JPII girl's team overcame adversity is stated very well by Vivi Kondrat, a sophomore in the 2019 state championship race. Vivi said:   

"...School Cross-Country wasn't about running for glory. It was about running for something greater than ourselves or even our team. We prayed before competitions and challenging workouts, after our races, celebrated, and when anything unexpected happened.                                                                               

For example, in 2019, our second year competing as a team, my dad drove half our cross-country team up to Marysville for a meet. We laughed and sang when one girl turned around and screamed: we heard a crunch and felt a jarring impact. Luckily, we all made it out of the four-car accident intact. Still, I clearly remember huddling by the side of the road for an hour, praying both to calm down and because we were concerned about the other people in the accident. I had never felt more connected to my faith.         

Ultimately, JPII has prepared me for life by teaching me a fundamental truth: Life has hills. Sometimes, you have to struggle, and you might feel tempted to quit. After that car accident, none of us wanted to race… and it showed! We lost to the reigning champions by almost 100 points. But Coach Weber had a common message for each person, a singular focus and mission, and it wasn't necessarily beating everyone. It was reaching our God-given potential.   

In our first year as a team, he challenged us to reach State... the following year, he set an almost unbelievable goal: winning the State Championship in our second year as a team. Before the 2019 state cross-country meet, we drove to Pasco to check out the course and prepare mentally. As we jogged, it seemed like nothing but hills!                                                                                           

We had been preparing for this race for months, but it wouldn’t be handed to us. On the day of the race, during the last stretch, I couldn’t keep up with a few runners who passed me at the end. I was disappointed in myself… it seemed I had failed our team. But I had given it my all, and so had everyone else. And because it was a TEAM effort, because everyone was committed to meeting their potential, our small team (in only its second year of competition!) won the State Championship!

We wouldn't have considered it possible if Coach had never pushed us beyond our barriers”.

During the season, the JPII girls faced various challenges, but they persevered by praying together and openly discussing their situations. The team's journey to the championship was characterized by grace in the face of adversity. Despite the hurdles, the girls never gave up and displayed remarkable resilience. As a coach, this is the first time I have witnessed something like how these girls performed during the state championships.

The Unexpected Victory

The story of the state championship race was like a movie script, but it was real. During the 5k race, the girls were in third place at mile one. They had decided to run the first part of the race smartly and within their capabilities, starting conservatively. They had moved to second place by mile two, just behind the three-time defending state champions.

In the final 1000 meters of the race, all the girls on the varsity seven team gave it their all, pushing themselves to their limits. It was incredible to witness such a young team execute their race strategy flawlessly in the most high-pressure race of the year.

We knew the race was close to the finish line. The defending state champs knew it was close as well. They had beaten our girl’s team by 99 points earlier in the season at a large cross-country invitational.  Even if we didn't win, I knew our girls had run their hearts out. They had nothing left as a team at the finish line. You could not ask for anything more.

Our team was overwhelmed with happiness and joy upon hearing the news of our victory. After the announcement, the three-time state champions also demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and graciousness.

The team celebration ensued at our team dinner that night. It was a time to give thanks and celebrate the many blessings of a great season. We thanked God for a fantastic day and season.

Lessons That Last A Lifetime

The life lessons of the 2019 season were priceless.                     

"Never let others define what is possible in your life." 

"Just because it's never been done before does not mean it can't be done now."           

"Never lose faith when things get tough."                                                                                                                                                                                      "Keep pursuing big dreams no matter the obstacles in the way." 

"It's never over until you cross the finish line." 

And with strong faith and a committed team, anything is possible.           

Grace and mid-course corrections are always a part of the journey, no matter what you do or where you are.

The Lady Eagles had a successful season, but what they gained from their journey was much more valuable. Their unwavering faith in God influenced their daily decisions and work each day.

The Eagles were not only exceptional in their athletic skills but also their sportsmanship towards other teams. As a coach, I have rarely seen a team be such great role models as student-athletes. In 2019, they won an outstanding team academic award with a great team GPA of 3.681, a testament to their dedication to their academic and athletic pursuits.

The Eagles were a delight to coach during the 2019 season. I will never forget this exceptional group of young women. Their hearts and perseverance amidst any life storm were truly remarkable. Congratulations on being the first team in school history to win a state championship!


Coach Weber

Philippians 4:13


In this 20-second video, our parents caught the surprise moment on video when we won the state title.


Some of the articles about the 2019 JPII Girls Team are below.

The Runner


Thurston Talk



From The WIAA (the oversight organization for sports in the State of Washington), After Winning The High School Team Of The Month Award

"The Pope John Paul II girls cross country team captured a come-from-behind, photo-finish, 1B/2B State Championship in only its second year with an entire team. Their hard work, determination, faith, and willingness to grow have helped push the Eagles through the struggles on and off the courses. Grace amid struggle was the centerpiece of this team's Championship journey. As voted by league coaches, the girls also won the Sea-Tac League Sportsmanship Award and finished with an outstanding team GPA of 3.681.