Full schedules & scores
Mt. Spokane, with Hunter Johnson, and North Central, with Kai Wilmot, figure to factor into the State 3A boys cross country chase. (Jesse Tinsley)

Area takes strong contingent to state cross country

From the first race at 10 a.m. until the last at 2:30 p.m., area runners will be in the mix at the state cross country meet Saturday at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

A handful of teams have aspirations of a team championship – led by North Central’s boys gunning for their fifth 3A title – and quite a few more hope to earn a trophy by finishing in the top four.

As for individuals, only Shadle Park’s Nathan Weitz has a title to defend, but Mead’s Andrew Gardner, NC’s Katie Knight and Colfax’s Morgan Willson look to get that elusive crown after runner-up finishes last year.

NC made sure the Greater Spokane League had a state champion for the 23rd straight year, even if the streak of 22 ended in the largest classification when Eisenhower won the 4A title. The Indians only escaped regional by two points over Kamiakin.

“I’d probably be sleeping a little better if it wasn’t so close,” NC coach Jon Knight said.” We’ll see how it comes out. We just have to stay loose. It doesn’t do any good to get all uptight. We’ll stay loose and if we win, great. If the dynasty ends, we’ll start a new one.”

The rundown:

4A (girls 1 p.m., boys 2:30)

When Lewis and Clark came up nine points short of Eisenhower last year, it ended the GSL dynasty as the boys champion in the large-school classification. This year the only team going is Central Valley, which qualified third out of regional after finishing in the bottom half of the league.

That puts the attention on Gardner, who finished 18 seconds behind LC senior Kenji Bierig on the 5,000-meter course and was eighth the year before as a freshman.

“I’ll see how I am at the first 800,” Gardner said of his strategy. “There are guys that take it out super fast. If the pace is already fast, why go out super hard?”

The Central Valley girls are at state for the seventh straight year, but league champion Lewis and Clark is the better bet to win a trophy.

“They set a goal last winter to be on the podium at state,” Tigers coach Mark Vandine said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. If we’re healthy, the odds are really good. If they’re not healthy, our chances are still good. These girls have shown a lot of grit. We haven’t been 100 percent for a race all year. That’s cross country. We’ve had adversity each race and somebody always steps up.”

3A (girls 12:30, boys 2 p.m.)

There is all kind of drama in these two races.

Can Kamiakin make up those two points on NC?

“They started off the season rated higher than us,” Knight said. “I think they’re kind of back. It’s going to be a dogfight. Bellevue just beat Seattle Prep. It’s going to be a dogfight. I think the top four teams in the state this year could be in 3A.”

Mt. Spokane, second in the GSL, should be factored in as well.

NC has the stronger pack, despite having no seniors. Sophomore Kai Wilmot and junior Keith Williams have being running 1-2 for the Indians, who got a boost with the return of injured junior Austen Frostad. Senior Hunter Johnson leads Mt. Spokane, with freshman John Dressel usually second.

Weitz, who sat out a late-season race with a hamstring injury, showed he was ready to defend his title by blitzing Kamiakin’s Anthony Armstrong late in last Saturday’s race. It was Armstrong, fifth last year, who won the distance double at the state track meet in the spring.

“I’m pretty much back to normal … I feel like I’m about ready,” Weitz said. “I’m going to try and push it from the start. Anyone that wants it is going to have to really try. I’m going to push it all the way.

“Last year I was trying to get as close to 15 (minutes) as I could (15:12). If Anthony ran like we did (at regional) and push each other, we’ll have a good go to try to get under 15.”

Before state last year, this appeared here: “In what could become the most long-running drama, including track, NC’s sensational Katie Knight and Shadle’s Kendra Weitz keep chasing Amy-Eloise Neale. Neale won the distance triple crown last year when all three were freshmen.”

Neale, from Glacier Peak, did win, with a course-record 17:31.8, with Knight less than 7 seconds in arrears. Neale won the two track races as well, though her three state wins over Knight were by a total of 9.12 seconds. Weitz was fifth in cross country, third on the track twice.

“No matter what, it’s going to be a fast time, so I don’t even think about that,” Knight said. “When I race her it’s always fast. The goal is to win, but it’s not to beat Amy. I can’t think about it as always going for her. There might be someone else there I need to worry about more. Mentally, it’s better not to put so much pressure on myself and just worry about her. I’ve got to run my race.”

Kamiakin easily won regional, but Shadle Park, Mt. Spokane and Southridge were each separated by a point, excruciating when only three teams advanced. The Highlanders, champions in 2009 and runner-up to a dominating run by Glacier Peak last year, have been hampered by injuries, but they run in a nice pack behind Kendra Weitz.

Mt. Spokane hopes to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish.

“We had a little bit too much confidence (before regional),” senior Molly Cole said. “(The narrow escape) kind of put us back in perspective. We’re planning on doing really well at state, not overlooking anyone.”

2A (girls 11 a.m., boys 1:30)

The Cheney girls were second to Sehome last year, with Sanne Holland placing third as a sophomore. The Blackhawks are ranked fourth in the coaches’ poll behind Interlake, Sehome and Kingston, but they showed they were ready by winning their regional by 89 points.

With two top-end runners, Deer Park, third at regional behind Selah and Cheney, could be much better than last year’s 11th-place finish. Junior Dan Amann won the race at Plantes Ferry Park, just ahead of senior teammate Dayde Collins. But it was Collins who was seventh in state while Aman was 29th.

1A (girls 10:30, boys noon)

Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) is ranked first in the boys and girls polls. The boys are defending champions, the girls were fourth last year in a race won by league-rival Riverside.

Colville senior Biagio Pietroburgo, 17th at state, won the regional by 1 second over Lakeside senior Michael Anderson, who ran fourth on the championship team.

Anderson edged sophomore teammate Ryan Coffman, who was the No. 2 Eagle at state last year in 21st, by 9 seconds.

Colville was second last year.

Freshman Lindy Jacobson won the regional for the Lakeside girls, just ahead of Riverside senior Jess Mildes, who was third at state last year. In the 1A girls race last year, the top finishing senior was only 18th. The Eagles had six of the top eight regional finishers to finish 39 points ahead of Riverside.

Maddy Meyers, another dominant distance runner in the junior class, won her second state title last fall with a course record that lasted until Neal raced.

2B-1B (girls 10, boys 11:30)

Willson won state her first year of running as a sophomore but last year was upended by another newcomer, Oroville freshman Sierra Speiker.

Northwest Christian (Lacey) won its fifth straight team title on the girls side while Tri-Cities Prep ended NWC’s two-year reign for the boys. Republic’s boys were second and Davenport fourth last year at state and they’re headed back after tying at the regional.