When the runners for the Cedar Tree Classical Christian School cross country teams show up at a meet, they are usually greeted with the same question — “Who are you?”
“We have a big CT as our logo,” sophomore Suzie Johnson said. “People ask ‘What does ‘CT’ stand for?’ ”
Sophomore Micah Stewart added: “Even just listening to other people’s conversations, I’ve walked by and heard them say ‘Cedar Tree? Where’s that?’ ”
For the record, Cedar Tree is in north Clark County. The school has a Ridgefield address, but is actually located just south of State Route 502 between Interstate 5 and Battle Ground.
The private school has about 200 students in grades K through 12. But the high school portion of the school has just 45 students.
One-third of those students — 16 (nine boys, seven girls) — run cross country, the only varsity sport offered at Cedar Tree.
“I don’t think that would relate if we were bigger,” coach Robert Loudenbeck said. “I mean, if we had 1,000 students, I doubt we’d have 300 runners.”
But Johnson said the proportion of runners to students at Cedar Tree makes perfect sense.
“Our school is like a family, so I think it’s a really good ratio, actually,” she said. “I do track at Prairie (in all other sports, Cedar Tree students compete for their neighborhood public school), and there are only like 10 people who run distance (at Prairie). It’s really cool that most of our upper school wants to do cross country, and I think it’s because of our coach.”
A former soccer player, Loudenback took up running eight years ago. When he heard that Cedar Tree had several students who had a passion for running, Louderback had a McFarland-like moment.
“I couldn’t quite relate to loving running at that age,” Loudenback said. “But these kids loved to run. So I thought, why not start a cross country program.”
It helped that one of those runners was August Albers, who would develop into one of the region’s top runners regardless of classification.
Albers would go onto to qualify for the state meet all four years at Cedar Tree, finishing with a trio of top-11 finishes in the 2B/1B division from 2016-18.
In 2016, Cedar Tree qualified its entire boys team to state, finishing 10th. In 2017, the Cedar Tree girls qualified for state, placing sixth.
Last year, both teams reached state for the first time. The girls placed fifth, the boys eighth.
In its fifth year, the Cedar Tree program has grown to include its middle school students, with a total of 29 runners. There is a half-mile running path around the campus where the team practices.
On Saturday in Onalaska, Cedar Tree again clinched state berths for both boys and girls. Johnson led the girls with a runner-up finish and sophomore Maddy Blake was third.
Johnson is helping to carry on the legacy of running at Cedar Tree.
“My brother (Nathan Johnson) started running cross country here the first year and I just watched him run his whole life,” Suzie Johnson said. “So I thought hey, I want to do it, too. Also, my parents kind of made me do cross country. But after I started doing it, I found a passion for it and started to love it.”
The Cedar Tree boys are not only a tight-knit group off the course, but on it as well. With tightly-bunched times of their top-5 runners, Cedar Tree could post a solid mark at state.
“Our spread is (usually) about 36 seconds,” Stewart said. “I think if we run like we’ve been running every other race, we should do just fine.”
They’ll do fine at state, and beyond, as Johnson noted running cross country has made her a better student.
“In cross country races, you can’t really give up,” she said. “You have three miles and you can’t just stop and start walking. So I’ve learned a lot through my passion for cross country. You have to just keep going and be diligent. Even though you’re tired, you have to keep on doing your homework or finish the race and finish strong.”
That’s exactly what the Cedar Tree runners expect to do Saturday in Pasco.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep editor at The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.