Washington State Meet Preview

       Although the leaves on the trees nearby are falling with abandon it seems hard to believe we are nearing the end of cross country’s first portion of the season.   Of course for the exception of the gifted few, who can aspire to a trip to the sport’s Mecca of Foot Locker or those on strong teams, this will be the end of the 2012 harrier campaign.   There have been numerous points of demarcation along the way but Saturday’s races will be the goal for bulk of the sport’s participants, although there is the additional perk of a trek to Border clash.     Both Oregon and Washington have had interesting seasons, which have been highlighted by stellar quality, which makes thoughts of the upcoming duels  most tantalizing.  

      Saturday will mark the fourth state contest between Katie Knight of North Central and Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak.   Neale won as a freshman & as a sophomore and set the course record for good measure in the second edition.   Last year they took off at such a clip that only Kendra Weitz of Shadle Park, a Foot Locker finalist as a sophomore, had the temerity to remain with them.  Even Alexa Efraimson yielded ground early.   Kendra finally gave up around the two mile mark due to physical issues leaving Neale & Knight alone at the front.   At first it appeared that there would be an extended battle but Knight pushed the pace and in the next half a mile opened a sizable gap.  Katie did not let up and zipped across the finish line in a stunning time of 17:10, which obliterated Neale’s record.   Amy-Eloise was left well behind in second in spite of the fact that she also was under the record.  

    Since that race Amy-Eloise has seemingly moved to another level with victories at Sehome, Sundodger and Stanford, as well as Bellevue & Hole-In-The-Wall.   Katy was slowed last spring by mononucleosis and it took a bit to come back but she has been victorious at Walters, Firman & Richland.  The duo have been relatively even throughout the seasons and, if both are on, their final duel could be one for the ages.   In the end it could come down to something as simple as, who is fortunate enough to be feeling strong that morning.   With Alexa Efraimson moving with her Camas teammates to 4A and Weitz still being handicapped by physical issues, it is hard to see another winning the race unless they ran each other into fatigue.   Still Katie Bianchini, also from Glacier Peak, is having a banner season that most runners would love to have and she has followed Neale into the finish chute more often than not with times and triumphed at Sehome.  With times normally in the middle seventeen minutes, she is capable of making things interesting.

      Others to watch are Nicole Goecke of Prairie, who won the Festival of Champions and the Westside Classic and Megan Beauchene of Kamiakin, who won at Hanford and Pasco.   Not to be overlooked is Michelle Fletcher of Kamiakin, who placed eleventh in the race last fall.   Lily Engelbrekt of Bishop Blanchet placed second at Bellarmine, while Haley Suarez of Meadowdale placed third at District.   Team-wise Glacier Peak will be tough to beat, as it boasts the up-front power of Neale & Bianchini plus solid support from Mikayla Ingram & Megan Davis.

       The girls’ 4A division includes two more stalwarts including the defending champion Jordan McPhee, who is also a Foot Locker finalist.  She went under the course record last year as well.  Jordan won this fall at Fort Steilacoom but has not been quite as sharp this fall, although being a two-sport star probably explains her slowness to come around yet she has always planned for an extended season.   Of course she faces Alexa Efraimson, who moved her running to  a national level during track and has kept it up ever since.   She has scored at the Run-A-Ree & at pier Park and, more importantly, has defeated McPhee in their only meeting this season.   Her time of 17:52 on the Westside course shows she is in fine form.   Chandler Olson of Woodinville placed third here last year and was not far from qualifying at Foot Locker.  She is her District champion as well as the Skyline victor.   Alexis Fuller placed second last fall behind McPhee ’s record performance.  She has been over-shadowed by her local rival Efraimson, yet she has defeated most everyone else she has faced this fall with a second at the Run-A-Ree and at the Great St. Helens League plus a third at South Whidbey.   Formidable also is Camas runner Alissa Pudlitzke, who was third at the Westside Classic.  Sofia Kane of Olympia has had a fine year with victories at Capital, Curtis and the Narrows league.

     Last year Tahoma followed Bellarmine Prep during the season before claiming the title at State.  Both teams are back featuring solid squads but they will have to deal with the Camas squad, which appears even stronger after their move to 4A Besides Efraimson & Pudlitzke they also feature Megan Napier, placed 8th in 3A last year.  The team has great depth and will be tough to beat, if everyone has a reasonable day.   Bellarmine will counter with their solid 1 – 2 punch of Daryl Phill and Hannah Derby, who placed 18th & 23rd respectively in Pasco in 2011.  Phill won the Bellarmine Invitational and the Narrows Twilight, while Derby finished second at the Twilight.   Bellarmine will also have the advantage of starting next to Camas, so they will know exactly where they need to be.   Tahoma will start on the opposite end of the field and will be led by Elizabeth Oosterhout, who finished 16th here last year and was fifth last week at Westside.   The team has depth, which it will need to maintain.  Other teams to watch are Union, which not only has Fuller but Cassie McKinney, who won a division at Pre-Nationals.   Not to be overlooked also is Richland, which boasts two solid performers in Lindsey Bradley & Lauren Perry.  Bradley placed second at Hanford and won the Richland District, while Perry was not far behind earning thirds at Hanford & District. 

     Cheney and Sehome went 1 -2 at State in 2A last year with only seven points separating them and they should renew their rivalry in Pasco again.  Sehome features Emily Pittis, who is the defending champion and has won the Sehome Invitational this fall as well as the Northwest Conference.   They have a deep team but Cheney also sports fine quality starting with Sanne Holland, who finished 4th last year.   Holland won at the Meadlander and the GNL.   Squalicum also has a fine time and its leader is Brittany Gappa, who won at Mt. Baker & is the Bellingham City champion.   She has struggled late due to physical problems but, if she is recovered, she and her squad will be formidable.  Reagan Colyer of North Kitsap will lead her team but also have a say in the individual race after claiming second last year. 

     The competition at 1A should be interesting with Hazel Carr of the Northwest School and Sally Larson of Cedar Park Christian.  They followed four-time State champion & two-time Foot Locker finalist Maddie Meyers last year placing second and fifth respectively and have followed suite this year with strong campaigns.   Carr won a division at Pre-Nationals & was second at Westside, while Larson has scored at Sehome, South Whidbey, Nisqually and at Westside.  Her only loss came at Hole-In-the-Wall, where she finished behind Amy-Eloise Neale & Katie Bianchini, who will in 3A on Saturday.  

       Hap Emmons topped the 1A guys last year but has graduated but Charles Wright runners David Goldstone & Reuben Riordan return off the 2nd & 3rd place finishes.  Riordan was 2nd at Nisqually and third at Westside, while Goldstone earned 3rd at Hoquiam & was 4th at Westside.   Dillon Quintana of Mt. Baker has moved into the picture by taking second at Westside but Tom Bradley of Blaine would seem the man to beat.  He scored at Westside and upset Pat Gibson at Northwest.  

       Marcus Dickson made the 2A boys’ race especially interesting by blasting out early only to be overhauled late in the race by Patrick Gibson & Poli Baltazar.  While Dickson has move on to college both Gibson & Baltazar will return for a rematch, as both look ahead towards Foot Locker.  Gibson won this event last year and followed that effort by being one of the top alternates at Foot Locker West.  This year he has been slowed a bit by a mid-season illness but he was victorious at Sehome, South Whidbey and Mt. Baker.   Balthazar on the other hand starting the season with second place finishes at Sehome and Seaside before scoring victories at Montesano, Sunfair, the Evergreen Conference and at District.  Another to watch is Conner Johnson of Sehome, who was third at District.   Washougal runners Sean Eustis, third at South Salem & 2nd at Hockinson, and Isaac Stinchfield could make things interesting.

       Moving on to the 3A boys it is hard to imagine anyone stopping the streak of the guys from North Central.  The won their qualifier last week without utilizing their top runner,  Kai Wilmot, who should return to action Saturday.    Wilmot had an off-day placing 8th here last fall but he has been on fire for this campaign with victories at Walters & Richland plus a 2nd at Firman.  At Richland he ran 14:44, so if he is on it should be interesting.   NC has amazing depth with Keith Williams 6th last year.  The team also can count on Tanner Anderson & Oliver Reed, who should be close to the front.    On the individual affair Wilmot should be challenged by Joe hardy of Seattle Prep, who took 4th last year.   Hardy claimed the Sundodger, Firman, Richland and the Sea-King District.  He won their head-to-head confrontation but, like with Neale & Knight, it will probably come down to who is ‘on’ that day.  Others to watch are Nicholas Hauger of Shadle Park, who won the GSL Opener, and Austin Oser, who leads a very solid Kamiakin squad.   Conner Jungkuntz of Ferndale should also be in the mix.  Dallas Snider of W F West earned the victory at Capital and was 2nd at Fort Steilacoom.

      While Central Valley has a strong squad in 4A and Gig Harbor, Lewis & Clark are just two of a number of challengers, most eyes will focus on Andrew Gardner of Mead, who has had a stunning season.  Last year he made things interesting before giving way to Jacob Smith but this year the two-time Foot Locker qualifier has been on fire and he arguably is the second best runner in the nation, while certainly in the top five.  He is undefeated with victories at Meadlander and the GSL Opener but he has established new course records at Mountain West and at Concordia.  Gardner has broken fifteen minutes three times and would still be favored if all runners ran in one race, which would be wonderful.  It will take some running to defeat him.

     That said, this is why we run races and there are a number of very fine athletes ready to give him a challenge.   Sumner Goodwin of Lewis & Clark placed 2nd at Stanford & was 3rd at Richland.  He is the most likely suspect but Wolfgang Beck of Gig Harbor placed 5th here last year and he has scored at the Danner and narrows Twilight plus at Westside.  His teammates Logan Carroll & Tristan Peloquin are usually close behind, while Aaron Roe of Henry Jackson is another to watch.  He was first at Capital & 2nd at WesCo.  Mark Tedder of Battle Ground and Keegan Symmes of Skyline are two other capable runners with Symmes scoring at the Twilight and Tedder claiming the Run-A-Ree and Seaside.  This division, not surprisingly, is deep with numerous harriers with ability and Drew Schreiber of Eisenhower and Jamie Coughlin of Garfield are two more of note.  Schreiber was third at South Whidbey & Coughlin was 2nd at Sundodger plus the winner at KinCo.  Olympia’s Peter Kesting is only a sophomore, yet he won a division at Capital and was fifth at Westside.   Not to be overlooked is Colby Gilbert of Skyview, who won at Trask & was fifth at the loaded Concordia meet.  Camas has a solid core led by Andrew Kaler, Tucker Boyd & Andrew Duffy.

       Just making it to the State meet can be daunting and it is a measure of success just to be here.   There is so much quality that it is both easy to overlook someone and not surprising, if another rises to the occasion.   Good luck to all runners and safe travel as we look forward to another banner meet.