Distance running excellence in Spokane is so all-encompassing that North Central coach Jon Knight could be excused a moment’s regret.
Two of Knight’s runners, Jon Caballero and Justin Hill, finished among the top 30 at Saturday’s state meet, posting personal-best times a week after NC placed fourth in the regional meet.
His entire team could just as easily have run there as well a week after placing fourth in regionals and being rated fifth in state. So Knight wasn’t entirely sated.
“Actually we were a little disappointed,” he said. “We felt a little cheated out of a (team) trophy, to be honest.”
Take nothing away from Caballero and Hill, however. They are the foundation for a young team with a potentially bright future.
The Indians return six runners next year, including the two juniors. Caballero finished ninth in state and Hill placed 30th. They are the second and sixth fastest GSL runners expected to be back next year, joined by runners from eight-time state champion Mead and state-placer Cameron Hatch of Rogers.
“This league is a compliment to all its coaches,” said Knight.
“We’re not taking anything for granted. There are no assumptions that we will beat anybody.”
Except that Caballero and Hill have shown they can.
“No one’s better,” said Caballero. “It’s just how hard you work at it.”
Echoed Hill: “If you want it, you can have it. It depends on how bad you want it - that’s what Mr. Knight told us.”
They are already preparing for next year and exhorting their teammates to join them.
“These guys are the first who committed year-around to the sport, and the others coalesced around them,” said Knight. “Once one raises the standard, the rest follow.”
Caballero improved from 15th place in league as a sophomore to fifth this year. Hill went from 18th to 10th.
“I had been in no serious sport in my life until my freshman year,” Caballero said. “When I started doing good, it became more of a lifestyle than a sport.”
Hill began running in the seventh grade, and the two have been chasing each other for three years. Neither figured to get this far this fast.
Caballero had hoped merely to get to state. Hill’s goal was to run three miles under 16 minutes.
In Pasco at state, Caballero said he changed his usual racing plan because of the fast course.
“I did my best to stay with the leaders and just kept picking people off,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was in the placings.”
When he heard his time of 15:15, nearly 40 seconds faster than he had run before, he was stunned.
Hill wasn’t as satisfied with his race, although his time was 15 seconds faster than he had done previously.
“He ran well,” said Knight. “I think he’s a year away.”
Both runners admitted they didn’t train as much last summer as they should have. But the state experience has whetted their appetite, and Caballero said they will run year around.
Even Knight, himself a product of Spokane’s rich distance-running legacy, said this season was a little bit like coming home. He had taken a year off from coaching, and once back, became caught up in the excitement of his young runners.
“Once you get the sport in your blood, it’s hard to get it out,” said Knight. “They are starting to realize they’re part of the grand tradition.
“When you run at state, you’re running on hallowed ground.”
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