This story was published Sunday, October 8th, 2006
By Rene Ferran
Joey Bywater knows Abdi Hassan all too well.
Bywater, a Lake Stevens junior, has lost a couple of big-time races to the Nathan Hale senior in the past, including the 1,600 meters at last year's Pasco Invite and earlier this year at the Salt Creek Invite.
At Saturday's 38th running of the Richland Invitational cross country meet, Bywater figured it was time for a little payback.
After running side-by-side at a blistering pace for almost the entire 3-mile course, Bywater surged over the final third of a mile to pull away to a seven-second victory over Hassan in a course-record time of 14 minutes, 59 seconds.
"That's the hardest I've ever had to run to win a race," said Bywater, the 4A state 3,200 champion as a sophomore. "Abdi is the toughest kid in Washington to run against."
The girls race held no such drama. Shadle Park freshman Andrea Nelson grabbed the lead at the opening gun and cruised to a 16-second victory in 18:11, two seconds off the course record.
"I just like having control of a race," said Nelson, whose only loss this year came last week at Sunfair. "I have a hard time getting back up into a race if I don't shoot up front."
Mead's boys, ranked third in the nation, repeated as team champions by putting five runners in the top 12.
West Valley (Yakima) won the girls title, besting Mead 81-106.
Bywater, Hassan -- the 3A state champion in the 1,600 as a junior -- and Mead senior Dylan Hatcher broke off as a three-person lead pack by the halfway point of the race, with Richland senior Tyler Noland part of the second wave of runners about six seconds back.
Hatcher dropped off the pace by the time Bywater and Hassan emerged from behind Carmichael Middle School and sprinted down the hill alongside Lee Boulevard.
They stayed side-by-side rounding the bottom portion of the course, but as they turned the corner at the baseball diamond on the far end of the facility, Bywater found an extra gear.
"I knew I was dying, but I knew he had to be also," Bywater said. "My legs were burning, but after racing him a couple of times, I knew he had a kick even when he's dead tired."
Bywater's second straight race win, coming at what he and his coaches called Lake Stevens' biggest invitational of the year, buoyed his confidence with districts coming in three weeks.
"This was a big test for where I'm at right now," he said. "But I know I'm going to have to run that hard again to win state."
Noland never could catch up to Hatcher, who also beat him last week at the Stanford Invitational, but he held off another Mead runner, Kelvin Daratha, and Woodinville's Doug Holt to finish fourth in 15:14.
Noland has had his difficulties in the past at his home invite. Last year, for instance, he fought through a queasy stomach to finish ninth.
"Today was great. I ran better than I have the other times I've raced here," Noland said. "I was working the hills pretty hard, the downhills especially."
He also was pleased to finish three spots ahead of Mead's Kelly Lynch, who beat Noland at Stanford a week ago.
Still, with five runners in the top 12, the Panthers easily won their third straight Invite title and 12th in the last 16 years with 37 points. Lake Stevens was second with 90, and Richland third with 160 as sophomore Benn Fussner finished 14th.
"I'm really pleased with how the boys ran," said Bombers coach Bruce Blizard. "I think we've finally found a No. 5 runner, Ryan Willits (who finished 59th). With him, we've got five guys now who are running in the low 17s or faster."
Nelson left little to chance in winning the girls race. By the 1 1/2-mile mark, she'd opened a 10 1/2-second lead on a trio of runners -- West Valley's Lisa Olander and Stephanie Shuel, and Davis' Sandra Martinez.
The lead steadily stretched out as Nelson never wavered. Olander, the 3A state champion in the 800 and 1,600 last spring, finished second and Shuel third.
"My first race this year, I didn't know how I'd react," Nelson said. "But ever since, I've felt like I've always been doing this. I was hoping for a personal-best today, and that's what I got."
Southridge sophomore Anne Steagall was the top area finisher in ninth in 19:18. She ran in a three-person pack with teammate Christina Lee and Walla Walla's Helen Reich for much of the race, then broke away in the final half-mile.
Steagall is running cross country for the first time despite, as she said, over her coach's protests, "I don't really like long distances." She turned out at the urging of her track teammates, including Lee.
"She pushes me," Steagall said of Lee, a senior who finished 11th, four seconds back. "I tell myself that I've got to stay with her because I want to beat her. I would not do as good without her."
Behind Steagall and Lee, the Suns finished fifth in the team standings, just 13 points back of Richland, ranked ninth in the 4A coaches poll but missing top runner Danielle Amparan, whom Blizard held out of the race to rest her. Walla Walla, ranked No. 10, was the top area team in third place.