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North Central’s Katie Knight is preparing for her senior cross country season. (Dan Pelle)

Daughter benefits from NC program, father

Katie Knight need not look far when soliciting distance running advice from her coach. She rides to and from school with him every day.

Her father, Jon, has orchestrated a remarkable distance success story at North Central, where his cross country boys teams have won six straight State 3A team titles and counting. Katie, under his watch, has become one of the top distance runners in the state.

The family has remained grounded at home with an emphasis on academics and its relationship to activity while avoiding the pitfalls of celebrity’s fishbowl.

“We’re not a TV family. We read books,” Jon said.

“You kind of have to learn to make it normal or you won’t be able to have success,” Katie said.

Beginning as a freshman, Katie has finished first or second in state cross country and track nine times. Last fall she set a cross country course record while capturing her first State 3A title.

She gained further stature with successes in the postseason, including a trip to Scotland. In the spring she added track titles in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

Her senior year lies ahead.

Distance running is a progression, Jon stresses to his NC boys and his daughter – who trains with them.

“(Ex-athletic director) Ed Fisher described it as being like a big flywheel,” Jon said. “It’s hard to get it moving, but once you get it to move it develops a momentum of its own.”

It took the former University of Montana and Washington State distance runner several years and “10,000 hours” to supplant Mead as the Greater Spokane League’s envied cross country program.

He built expectations through a family of fellow coaches and volunteers. They identified athletes with potential, even those who might not appear that talented but wanted to be part of a team, he said. They developed them into talents. The program has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

“We’ve attempted to create value within the program,” Jon said. “That’s the idea behind our service projects. People want to be a part of that.”

The flywheel approach worked well for Katie. He let her develop slowly.

“Sometimes I think there’s a feeling they’re doing it because of you,” Jon said “There’s a tendency for that to become pressure without intending it to be pressure. So we didn’t start her training until eighth grade.”

By high school she was ready.

“I think the reason I like running so much now is I didn’t have to do it when I was little,” she said.

Each year Katie has improved – and been remarkably consistent. Her dad said she’s been defined by her rival, Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak, after finishing second twice to Neale in state cross country and the 1,600 and 3,200 races in state track her freshman and sophomore seasons.

“The first year Eloise destroyed me and I didn’t beat Kendra (Weitz from Shadle Park) until state,” Katie said. “Honestly, it was a breakthrough for me. Competition is the best thing you can have as an athlete.”

Last year she beat Neale by nearly 18 seconds in her record 17:10.6 cross country run and added the titles in track, although Neale couldn’t compete. Knight’s track times were considerably slower than her previous two years and it was only later they learned that she had contracted mononucleosis.

“Before spring break she was on track to (beat) her times,” Jon said. “We thought she could run 10 minutes for 2 miles.”

It’s been a slow road back over the summer, but this weekend Katie resumes her quest to run in college and beyond. She’s already passed six Advanced Placement tests in history, biology, English, chemistry and mathematics. She’s narrowed her college choices to Washington, Stanford and Colorado.

The future awaits. Until then she’ll continue traveling back and forth to school with her coach.

“We’re very similar,” Jon said. “Riding to school together and training, I think I’ve probably spent more time with my daughter than most dads get to do.”