PASCO — No team appreciates the value of a single point at the state cross country championship as much as West Valley\'s girls.
The Rams, after all, captured last year\'s Class 3A title by exactly that slim margin.
So when this year\'s crew ascended Saturday\'s trophy podium for a fourth-place award, there was a sense of understanding to go with the disappointment.
Lisa Olander and Stephanie Shuel gave West Valley an overwhelming presence at the front finishing second and fourth, but in a three-team tug-of-war for second place the Rams finished a step behind — one point out of third and three points out of second.
\"When you come in wanting to make a run at it, fourth may seem a little tough to take. But there were no bad efforts today, just a tight race,\" said coach Bob Allan, whose program produced a trophy for the fourth consecutive year. \"We gave it what we had and I\'m never unhappy with that.\"
Top-ranked Squalicum, the Rams\' one-point victim last year, was true to form at Sun Willows Golf Course with a dominant 51-point victory led by Bronwyn Crossman\'s individual victory.
But in the chase for second, every stride counted as
Mt. Spokane tallied 131 points followed by Columbia River (133) and West Valley (134). Last week in the regional meet the Rams beat Mt. Spokane by
\"It wasn\'t our best race of the season — that was last week,\" Allan said. \"But it was still very good and we\'ll take that. Believe me, after last year our girls know anything can happen here.\"
Crossman and Olander don\'t often race head-to-head, but the Squalicum junior knew all about her track speed. And did her best to get away from it.
Surging away mid-race to build a 10-second lead, Crossman held off the charging Olander by two seconds, 18:44 to 18:46, on the soggy 5,000-meter course.
After taking their fourth-place trophy in the 3A girls state cross country meet, the West Valley girls gather just off the podium as the rest of the trophys are awarded. The team, including (from left) Aubrey Packard, Staphanie Shuel, Stacy Sundborg, and Amy Larson hugged and cheered each other as their season as a team came to a close in Pasco on Saturday, November 4, 2006.
\"That was the plan,\" explained Squalicum coach Tim Irvin. \"With Olander\'s speed you can\'t have it come down to a sprint. We were fortunate the early move worked.\"
Thoroughly spent from the effort, Olander was delighted with how she maintained a swift early pace and was in position to challenge late. While slicing into Crossman\'s lead over the final half mile, Olander dropped the other contender, Sumner\'s Katrina Drennen.
\"That\'s the fastest race I\'ve ever run,\" she said. \"I knew the pace would be brutal so I\'m real happy with how I did.
\"When (Crossman) made her move, I just didn\'t feel like I could go with her,\" she added. \"Besides, I was right with the Sumner girl and the pace was fast. It was a tough race and I\'m happy with it.\"
So, too, was Shuel. More like ecstatic.
A year after finishing 36th at state — well under her own expectations — the West Valley junior capped a consistently high-level season with a fourth-place run in 19:14.
When Crossman, Olander and Drennen accelerated away early in the second mile, Shuel got caught in a gap without any help from other runners. But instead of drifting back to fifth, she held form and pace and never gave up her position.
\"When I saw those three pick up the pace I thought maybe I\'d gain on them later,\" Shuel said. \"I had a great view of what was happening — Lisa had such a great race. But I felt good and stuck to my own race.\"
Senior Rachael Johnson is the lone link through all four of West Valley\'s run of trophies and she was again the Rams\' No. 3 runner on Saturday.
A 400-meter runner in the spring, Johnson finished 32nd in 20:25. Senior Alejandra Borunda and sophomore Aubrey Packard rounded out the scoring team.
The Rams will graduate three runners off the seven-member squad they brought to Pasco, but with Olander and Shuel back the future looks bright.
\"I\'m tickled for Lisa and Stephanie, especially with the steady season Stephanie has had,\" Allan said. \"Last year was so up and down for her, she was just so frustrated.
\"We\'ll miss these seniors, though,\" he added with an emotional pause. \"Rachael has done so much for us over the years and it gets overlooked because she\'s right in the middle. She\'s been our rock, always there every race. This was a special season and, in time, I think everybody will be happy with it.\"