Jacob Easton is going it alone, something he’s done twice before.
The University High senior is headed to the Class 4A state cross country meet in Pasco as the school’s lone representative.
The Titans are regularly represented at the state meet. Since 2014 they’ve sent a team twice, in 2014 and ’15, and their top runner has represented the school in each of the past four years.
If University were in any other league in the state it would likely be an annual team participant.
“The Greater Spokane League is tough and the numbers make it difficult to get to state,” coach Mike Barbero said. “We had a couple years where we dropped down to Class 3A and battled North Central and Kamiakin. We just work hard and do the best we can.”
As a freshman, Easton watched as Joe Hawkins, his senior teammate, led the team during the season and was the Titans’ solo representative at the state championship race in which he covered the course in 16 minutes, 33.8 seconds to place 48th.
“Joe was a really good mentor for me,” Easton said. “I remember thinking my sophomore season that I needed to pick my game up because he wasn’t there.”
That year Easton was the only Titan to run at state, turning in a strong performance. He covered the 3-mile course in 15:37.7. He ran the first mile in 4:59.9 and was 30th overall. He was at 10:04.2 at the 2-mile mark and had moved up seven places overall.
“My sophomore year the course was flatter,” Easton said. “There was a big flat section. They changed the course after that year and now it’s a hillier course.
“I like it. I have strong legs. I like to attack on the hills.”
Easton’s race last year was striking similar to the one he ran as a sophomore, even with more hills. Easton turned in a 15:34.7, running the first mile in 4:50.8 (14th place) and was at 10:00.4 (11th) through 2 miles. Overall, he placed seventh last year and was one of just three nonsenior runners to crack the Top 10, joining Eisenhower’s Jonas Price (second) and Lewis and Clark’s Wil Smith (fourth).
Easton said he wasn’t happy with his form in last year’s state race.
“Last year I broke down a little on my form,” he said. “I was leaning too far forward. I’ve been working on being straighter.”
Otherwise, the strategy isn’t all that complicated.
“This week is different in the sense that it’s finalizing all the hard work that started back in June,” Barbero said. “We’ve been sharpening and resting at the same time. We’ve been trying to relax.
“We’ve talked about (strategy). He knows who he’s running against. He can beat some people, and if he’s not on his race, there are people who can beat him.”
Easton plans to run the course at Sun Willows Golf Club on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s state meet.
“I want to look for tangents. I want to see if there are any hard corners and look for good corners where I kick,” he said. “I want to know where the mile markers are and I want to look for where I want to kick to the finish.”
As for the race itself, Easton plans to go out fast.
“I want to go out with the lead group,” he said. “I want to run the first mile in about 4:50, and then I want to do a better job of maintaining my pace than I did last year.”
It’s been a long road to this final race and Easton has plans to represent U-Hi in two invitational postseason invitational races in Boise and in California. His season won’t end until early December.
“I had a good summer, but I never did hit the 70-mile (per week) mark that I wanted to hit because there were some other things I needed and wanted to do, too,” Easton said. “I had a couple weeks where I did 65 miles, though. I usually feel strong at the end of the summer and I did this year.”
With the miles already logged and his spot in the state meet already assured, Easton wants to make sure he’s rested and ready for it all.
“I think getting rested up is as important as everything else,” he said. “If anything, I think my last couple races I’ve had a surprising lack of adrenaline beforehand. That’s been a little surprising and I want to see if I can get myself a little more up before the start.”