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Highly regarded relay team members at Mead (4A) and Mt. Spokane (3A) high schools are friendly rivals when it’s not football season. (Colin Mulvany)

Mead, Mt. Spokane relay teams display power from same district

It was one-liners and laughter when two of the fastest boys relay teams in the state met to talk about the unusual fact that they come from rival schools in the same district.

“I didn’t even realize it until our coach sent us an email to be here,” Mead junior Evan Maack said Tuesday afternoon.

“I knew it, I just didn’t think anything about it,” Mt. Spokane junior Chase Naccarato said.

Maack is the leadoff for the Panthers’ 400-meter quartet that has gone a state-best 42.27 seconds. Naccarato anchors the Wildcats’ 1,600 relay that has dipped to 3 minutes, 21.52 seconds, which led the state when they ran that at the district meet two weeks ago.

The Mead team, in order, is Maack, sophomore Gunnar Kayser, who replaced Casey Monahan from last year’s 4A runner-up, senior Mike Smith and junior Wes Bailey.

The Wildcats, who have been building for a state championship since placing fifth in the 3A meet, are junior Tyler Green, seniors Casey O’Leary and Jack Cerenzia and Naccarato.

Both groups expect to pick up gold medals at StarTrack XXIX, which begins today at Mt. Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

Different events would seem to defuse the potential for any animosity produced by a rivalry, but that was taken care of long ago. Naccarato, Green and Maack grew up playing the full smorgasbord of youth sports together and their teammates seemed to have picked up on the vibe.

The eight runners threw out a number of real reasons for their success, mostly related to hard work and genetics.

“It’s pretty much (Panthers head) Coach (John) Mires being the best there ever was,” Smith said.

“And Coach (Bryan) Payne the second best,” Naccarato added, amid laughter.

Then seven heads turned when Bailey offered a one-word explanation: “Montana.”

Bailey transferred from Missoula before his freshman year and is the fastest of the eight. The defending State 4A champion in the 300 hurdles has the fastest time this spring and is No. 2 in the 200.

“We’re not competing against them so we want to see them do good,” Green said.

They said Mires and Payne encourage friendly competition.

“In football, we’re rivals,” Maack said. “Track is a friendly sport. During track you always know you’re going to see the guy again. You’re going to get a second chance. In football it’s one and done.”

“And there are 8,000 people there,” Naccarato said. “When you lose, you feel like you’re letting the school down and in track, no one cares.”

That started the talk that led to a sad realization.

“It’s annoying no one at school knows how good our teams are,” Maack said.

“To be good at track you have to train so much,” Cerenzia said. “It’s a lot more than running in circles.”

Mead’s relay team has a top-50 all-time time for the state and the Panthers expect to go faster this weekend, hoping to break 42 seconds.

The Wildcats would like to break 3:20, which has only been done a half-dozen times by Greater Spokane League teams, none since Shadle Park set the league standard (3:17.69) 11 years ago. But they would settle for a 3:26 if it came with gold.

“That’s been the goal all year,” Green said.

Mead easily won the team race at regional and the Panthers are expected to contend for a third straight 4A title and the school’s ninth overall.

One might wonder how good would a single Mead school be, considering the Panthers set a scoring record last year.

“We had 82½ points with 10 guys,” Maack said. “With this 4x4 they have and Chase in the 100 and 200…”

“Over a hundred points,” someone chimed in. “No one would ever beat us.”

Kayser, the sophomore newcomer, said, “It’s really cool,” and was mocked mercilessly by the veterans for his deep insight.

But you know what? He’s right.