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Starting out fresh with Cross Country
Published 9/5/2013 8:22:00 AM
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Starting a new semester, freshmen at WSU are adjusting to a life of studying, socializing and living on their own. Freshman Conner Johnsen is adjusting to this life, while also competing as a long distance runner for the WSU Cross Country team.

“It’s a lot different than high school,” Johnsen said. “I’m always doing something.”

This active lifestyle started for him at an early age living in Bellingham.

“I was an active kid,” Johnsen said. “I did as many sports as I could while growing up.”

As a kid, running was never in the picture for Johnsen. Soccer was his favorite sport.

It wasn’t until high school that his friend Liam Toney approached him about the possibility of running long distance. Toney’s older sister got him into running, and he wanted to pass that on to his friends.

“She hooked him on it (cross country), and his goal was to get his friends to do it too,” Johnsen said. “He got me to do it, and it was a great decision.”

After his introduction to the sport, Johnsen competed on the cross country and track and field team for Sehome High School. Johnsen helped Sehome win the 2010 and 2012 cross country 2A state championships, according to He was a four-time All-Northwest Conference selection and four-time All-Whatcom County selection in high school.

Johnsen’s success at Sehome caught the attention of schools in the Northwest region, including Gonzaga University and Boise State University.

It wasn’t until the spring of 2012 that WSU entered the picture to recruit Johnsen as a long distance runner. Since Johnsen’s father attended WSU, Johnsen was raised as a Coug and knew it was the school for him.

“It was perfect,” he said. “WSU was always the dream school.”

WSU senior cross country runner Lee George lives in the same area as Johnsen and helped him prepare for Division-I long distance running.

“He gave me insight over the summer so I wasn’t totally on my heels,” Johnsen said.

Besides looking up to his teammates, he said his relationship with WSU cross country coach Tim Riley has helped reduce the pressure of being a student athlete.

“I totally trust him as a coach,” Johnsen said.

Having one race officially under his belt, Johnsen is still learning the ropes on what it takes to be a successful long distance runner.

“It (the first meet) was eye opening,” Johnsen said. “I just need to get my wraps around about how fast the race pace will be for college compared to high school.”



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