An age-old problem will go unresolved when distance runners converge today at Hangman Valley Golf Course to qualify for state cross country meets.
Even with an improved regional race for AAA schools, it is difficult to justify sending teams and individuals from other districts to state, who are content to run at the back of a race at the expense of more worthy athletes.
Spokane has such a wealth of team and individual talent that this area is left wanting because enrollment dictates how many runners each district earns.
Last year, for example, Central Valley’s Jenni Saling was sixth in the district and her time would have been good for a top-15 finish at state but she missed qualifying by one place.
Mead won state, but its toughest foe, Ferris, was left home. Three of the top four state placers and one other top 10 individual finisher were from the Greater Spokane League.
There were state participants who ran three to five minutes slower than a dozen Spokane runners who deserved to be at state but weren’t because the league got only five individual berths.
This year the state’s top four ranked AAA boys teams, including University High, and seven of the top 10 will all run on the Hangman Valley course today. So, too, will four of the state’s top seven AAA girls teams, including the Titans, and defending state champion Eisenhower of Yakima.
The new regional format pitting Greater Spokane League and Big Nine teams against each other at least affords runners, Saling included, an opportunity they might otherwise not have had.
Three teams and runners in the top 15 qualify for the end-of-season meet in Pasco, giving several GSL athletes a second chance.
“This year it would be criminal for only one team and five individuals to go,” said University High coach Bob Barbero.
The GSL has four potential state qualifying teams and at least 15 worthy individuals. But it’s better than the one team, five runner alternative.
Frontier League teams aren’t as lucky. They get only one team berth and five individuals. Yet three boys teams are ranked among the top eight in state. Sixteen teams qualify for Pasco.
East Valley and West Valley’s girls are ranked first and second and a mere point separated them in their regular season dual. It is not right that only one goes.
The girls race will include two state champions, a state runnerup and third placer among its field.
Obviously there’s not much margin for error among girls who, by past and current performance, belong there.
An example of the absurdity of the current system is that WV’s Jessica Riehle, a state cross country champion as a freshman in 1993 and third place finisher last year behind state champion Jeannette Zimmer of Cheney, did not qualify for last spring’s state track meet.
Although a probable state placer based on her times, Riehle was beaten by Zimmer in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs. Only one runner advanced.
Leslee McLachlan, wife of WV track and cross country coach Jim, has told her husband it’s time the coaches threatened a lawsuit to correct the inequity.
Her father, retired EV coach Howard Dolphin, was long a proponent of having the best athletes, regardless of location or school enrollment, participate in state competition.
Until the issue of quality is addressed statewide cross country polls are essentially a meaningless exercise. The meet itself is lacking.
The best race will likely be right here, today, at Hangman Valley.
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