As Rogers High senior Isaak Chol used his long, impressive stride to round a series of pine trees Wednesday at Comstock Park, a group of onlookers marveled at the Sudanese-born runner and the purple-clad teammates behind him.
“I guess the hype is real,” a man said as the towering Chol led the pack at the four-team Greater Spokane League meet. “Those (Rogers) kids can run.”
The Pirates, ranked second in the most recent state 3A coaches poll, cruised to a team win, sweeping Ferris, University and Mt. Spokane.
A week ago, Rogers won the 25-team Nike Battle for the 509 at Fairways Golf Course, a race won individually by University High’s Jacob Easton.
Easton (15 minutes, 16.32 seconds) was victorious again on Wednesday, finding his kick in the final stretch to zip past Chol (15:33.69), who placed second.
Rogers junior Daniel Lee (15:47.23) placed third in the GSL meet, part of a deep Pirates unit that placed six runners in the top 10.
The GSL has been one of the most tradition-rich cross country leagues in the state and country, pumping out team and individual champions and future NCAA Division I runners at a regular clip.
A school in Hillyard where many students battle socioeconomic hardships and which often struggles in team sports, Rogers has struggled for wins in recent history.
That’s changing on the cross country front, and people are noticing.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Easton said of Rogers’ resurgence. “And they’re a good group of guys. From last year to this year, it’s insane how much they’ve improved since last season.
“They might win (3A) state,” added Easton, who placed seventh at the State 4A meet last season. “I hope they do.”
Sixth-year Rogers coach Ken Bell remembers the lean years.
When Bell, a retired educator, inherited the program, he had all of three runners on the boys team.
Now he has 30 runners and a legitimate shot at state hardware if the team can continue its success in the GSL and district.
“I was talking to a coach in the league recently, and he said if these guys can win (the GSL), there’s a good chance they can win state, and people will talk about this group for years to come,” Bell said.
Bell was a standout runner, winning small-school state titles in 1969 and 1970 in Tonasket, Washington, before competing at Kansas State.
He remembers the days when Rogers was a state power, dating to 1964 when the Pirates had champion runner and Olympian Gerry Lindgren.
Bell believes this is likely the most excitement the program has had since the Lindgren days.
Chol is proud to be a part of it.
“It’s great to be with a bunch of guys who work hard every day,” said Chol, a Sudanese refugee who moved to Spokane at age 10. “I told these guys we would do something special one day.”
Throughout the summer months, Rogers runners put in roughly 70 miles a week, pushing through different terrains throughout Spokane County.
Lee, who attends Pride Prep and runs for Rogers, said the summer labor is paying off.
“It feels great that everyone cheers for us now,” said Lee, adopted from Ethiopia at age 9. “We’ve been working hard and training and week improving.
“And we have guys like Easton pushing us and the 4A schools pushing us to get better.”
The Pirates’ next GSL meet will be Oct. 9 at Liberty Lake against Central Valley, University and Shadle Park.