Washington has become the premier state for distance running. It is that simple. There has been a great deal said about the Renaissance in American distance running but the epi-center of that resurgence is in the state of Washington and, if there might be anyone, who might wish to argue that statement, they only needed to be on hand today at the meet held in Tacoma. There were six distance races at 3200 Meters and each race was of the highest quality. From 2A to 4A, whether for the guys or the girls a legion of runners gave evidence to the over-whelming quality of this relatively small state in terms of population with a preponderance of distance talent. And importantly it was not just the vaunted Spokane area, which has long been recognized for its contribution to America's distance pool. Seemingly every area contributed to an evening of running brilliance.
Of course the proof is in the proverbial pudding and like the old detective story used to say: "just the facts" and to that point we begin to elucidate. The problem is not in the detail for this writer, it is determining where to begin. This was such a full evening of running but we'll start the way the runners did with the 2A girls' race. Marina Roberts of Kingston is a runner true running fans can appreciate, because she is not afraid to set the pace and once again she took the point. Marina bravely cut into the breeze early and in no time had whittled the challengers down to just two runners: Sanne Holland of Cheney and Brittany Gappa of Squalicum. With Roberts dutifully leading the way the trio distanced themselves from the rest of the field but the real action began late, when Gappa made her move. Holland followed suite and with two laps to go they parted company with the valiant Roberts. In the end it was Holland, who pulled away to win in a time of 10:48.40. Properly setting the tone for the night Sanne broke the old record held by Shannon Porter in 2007 of 10:50. Gappa earned second in 10:51: a time which normally could be expected to win. Roberts bravely held on for third with a mark of 11:03, while Lauryn Wate of White River closed well to take fourth in 11:06. Sehome's freshman Emily Pettis led the parade of runners, who would soon sweep across the finish line with her mark of 11:12 and was followed by Nikita Waghani of Interlake and Sarah Reiter of Lindbergh, who rounded out the top seven.
With Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak concentrating on the two middle distance races and Kendra Waitz of Shadle Park compromised with breathing problems Katie Knight of North Central was left without two formidable challengers, yet she raced with a bit of fear in the knowledge that a challenge can come from anyone and at any time. Katie set the tone of the race with splits of 72 and 2:20, which seperated her from the field save for Lily Engelbrekt of Bishop Blanchet. Blanchet's Engelbrekt has made great strides this spring and she remained a close second as long as she could before slowly ceding contact. Knight roled through the 1600M in about 5:05 on her way to victory in 10:27. It was a quality time given the circumstances and one wonders what it might have been if her rival Neale, the record-holder in the event after last year's brilliant duel with Knight in 10:12 and Weitz, had been on hand. Neale's team mate Katie Bianchini ran an intelligent race moving into second with a lap or so to go and placed second in a fine 10:51, while Engelbrekt held on for third with a time of 11:09. It was a rather gutty performance by the Blanchet runner, who was clearly laboring at the end of the race due to her early effort, but she held off the hard-charging Andrea Masterson of Lakeside, who placed fourth - also in 11:09 & change. Ana Delgadillo of Columbia River followed a second later in fifth and Alissa Pudlitzke of Camas was sixth in 11:12. Erin Russell of Prairie & Stephanie Rexus of Kamiakin earned seventh & eighth respectively. If suspense is your cup of tea the girls' 4A provided that in spades, as Jordan McPhee of Mt. Rainier forged the lead but Chandler Olson of Woodinville refused to let her get away from her. Rachel Atwood of Auburn Riverside remained with the duo early before prudently backing off the pace, as the rest of the field decided early to yield ground. Soon it Washington's 2011 Foot Locker finalist McPhee grinding out the splits with Olson doggedly refusing to concede. Chandler had just recently broken the magic five minute barrier in the 1600 Meters and apparently had moved to a new plateau in running but she was facing an opponent, who had spread-eagled the state field last fall in XC. In any race like this the thought for a fan is who will yield but as they stormed down the final stretch it became obvious that neither was contemplating that thought. Olson pulled even just after the final turn and they proceeded to race shoulder-to-shoulder down the final straight. The result fittingly was a photo finish, which took some time to discern and in the end the victory went to Chandler Olson, who had prevailed by a mere hundredth of a second. It was a brilliant victory for Chandler and a difficult defeat, although that really does not seem to be the appropriate word, for Jordan. We spoke with them after the race together as they fittingly deserved for it would be hard to ask for more in a race of any type. Rachel Atwood came in third in 10:54 but had a late but major challenge from Gig Harbor freshman Brenna Peloquin, who threaded her way from well back in the pack to claim fourth less than a second later. Rose Christen of Central Kitasp took fifth in 10:57 and was followed in turn by Sofia Kane of Olympia, Emily Dwyer of Eastlake and Kyra Burke of Inglemoor.
It had already been a solid evening of distance racing yet the guys had yet to toe the line. The guys' 2A could hardly be thought of as an undercard event event Marcus Dickson of White River in the event. Marcus was the national leader in the Mile for a good part of the season and he was on a quest for "a quadruple" that was to include the 1600 Meters, the 800 Meters plus the 1600 Meter Relay. He had already anchored his relay team about a half hour prior to the race in a prelim and now had to deal with Patrick Gibson of Squalicum, who is the defending 2A XC champion. Marcus has an excellent kick but he is not shy of taking the lead and he proceeded to set the early pace recoding a split of 66 seconds. That pace quickly made it a two-man race and they left the rest of the field in their wake. Ensuing splits included 4:33 at 1600M & 5:40, as they duo raced ahead of the field. With Marcus' known speed Gibson knew that he had to do what he could to press the pace and he surged with over a lap to go and then even upped the ante with 300 meteres remaining. The final lap had to be about sixty seconds with Gibson putting on the pressure. The strain was visible on Dickson's face as he fought to cover the move and he kept his dream alive by making a move, as he came into the final straight but it was Gibson, who prevailed in the end with a winning time of 9:01.86. It was another State record and it took a record to defeat Marcus, who ran 9:04.91 to also dip below the old mark of 9:05.88 set by Chris Kwiatkowski of Bellingham in 2007. Marcus, incidentally, also blew away his PR in the process. It was such a duel and race that Aberdeen's Poli Balthazar was a bit disappointed after the race thinking that he had only finished fourth as a junior but at the awards ceremony he was relieved to find that he had indeed taken third and in a fine time of 9:14, which gave him a second margin over Dayde Collins of Deer Park. Collins' team mate Danile Amann ran 9:18 for fifth and was followedin turn by Conner johnson of Sehome and Travis Downen of Lindbergh.
There are times, when form charts mean nothing in distance racing, and this was one of those days. On paper it might have seemed to some to be the renewal of an old rivalry between Nathan Weitz of Shadle Park and Anthony Armstrong of Kamiakin but AA has been hampered by health issues this spring and, although he gamely battled early, he was not his usual self on hrace day. Of course two-time Foot Locker national finalist Weitz is a very determined and disciplined runner and he gamely set the pace from the beginning of the race. Early on Kai Wilmot of North Central and Anthony Armstrong gave chase but with Weitz setting the tone with steady splits Joe Hardy of Seattle Prep began to give chase albeit a somewhat distant one at first. Still the sophomore had a cheering section in the stands early in the straight and another group on the rail along the turn and he seemed to gain strength as the race progressed. With fans yelling "Joe" he set sail on the final lap catching and passing the valiant Weitz and the sophomore sped to victory in record time of 8:55.22 eclipsing the old record of 8:55.86 set by Carl VanCalcar, who went on to star at Oregon State, in 1983. For all his effort it seemed a shame that Nathan just missed breaking nine minutes in the race but his time of 9:00.02 is certainly a very impressive one. Kai Wilmont of North Central gave the race a sophomore tinge with his third place effortof 9:01, while Curtis King of Peninsula came in fourth. Armstrong finished fifth in 9:18 and Keenan Piper of Seattle Prep was sixth in 9:23. The parade followed closely behind with Alec Temple of Capital and Cory Johnson of Enumclaw taking 7th & 8th respectively.
With all the talent strutting its stuff in Washington this season it can be hard to feel truly successful at times & Andrew Gardner of Mead had awaited a big race. On Thursday the hard work paid off as he challenged Jacob Smith, who had set the pace for the better part of the race. Smith of Wenatchee led the way with Santos Vargas of Eisenhower and Wolfgang Beck of Gig Harbor in the mix as well. With the breeze it had to be a bit more difficult than it normally is to lead and one has to credit Smith's courage but Gardner was not to be denied as he sailed through the last lap enroute to a triumph in 8:59.83: a fine time anywhere. The two-time Foot Locker finalist is only a junior, so it bodes well for his future. Smith, the current 4A XC champion placed second in 9:01. Conor McCandless of Gonzaga Prep has often been over-shadowed as well the past two years but the senior came through today with a fine time of 9:03, which was good for third. Sophomore Wolfgang Beck of Gig Harbor ran another big race to take fourth in 9:14 and was followed by Santos Vargas in 9:16. Juniors Mark Tedder of Battleground and Jamie Coughlin of Garfield came in sixth & seventh respectively and Logan Carroll of Gig Harbor, a sophomore, placed eighth. Somewhat surprisingly there were three freshmen in the race: Aaron Roe of Henry Jackson (10th), Peter Kesting of Olympia (11th) and Tristan Peloquin of Gig Harbor (16th). At the end of the day there was something for everyone with the overwhelming theme being high quality.
It was such a night that Steve Prefontaine's old room mate Pat Tyson stood on the sidelines and proudly noted that "I'm proud to be a Washingtonian." Those Cascade mountains looming in the distance are volcanic but on this day in may the eruption was on the track and we hope it continues its tectonic shift in distance towards the Northwest. With the racing such as it was it is almost stunning to note, that not all of the premier athletes toed the line on Thursday, as Alexa Efraimson and Amy-Eloise Neale for the girls and Izaic Yorks & Nicholas Boersmaof Wenatchee for the guys, just to name four runners, chose not to compete. More importantly this was just the 3200 Meters: the 1600 Meters is yet to come and there is also the 800 meters too. We spoke with some of the competitors, who gleeflully gushed that they need not go to new York for a 'Dream Mile' but we can have it here. Stay tuned to the action on Saturday. It might be epic!