When the season began, those associated with the Mt. Spokane girls cross country program had no illusions of winning a third-straight Greater Spokane League championship, let alone hopes of another undefeated season.
But the iron-willed Wildcats, with mostly new runners and a new coach, is almost there following their 24-33 triumph over Mead (8-2), stunning mainly because of its ease. Both teams beat West Valley (2-9).
Only Lewis and Clark, next week at Manito Park, stands in the way of Mt. Spokane perfection. Meanwhile, the stage has been set for the season-ending boys title showdown between unbeatens Mead and Ferris and once-beaten North Central.
The Mt. Spokane girls, with only two varsity returnees, have created depth with each passing week. Four of the first five placers against veteran Mead were Wildcats.
And freshman prodigy Courtney Zalud, whose father had a successful prep career in California and who is related to former Spokane star Rick Reilly, had perhaps the biggest impact.
She finished second – ahead of Mead standout Ryan Torpie – to teammate and course-record setting senior Megan O’Reilly.
Even O’Reilly’s 19:03, breaking her old record by two seconds, was remarkable in that she ran in training shoes and had eased through the first mile in 6:18 at rookie coach Sean Linder’s request.
The idea was to help both Zalud and sophomore Jessica Klier through their target times of 6:20.
Then she took off, while Zalud overhauled Torpie on the final hill of Siemers Farm in Green Bluff and finished with a flair, nine seconds ahead in 19:43. Klier was fourth in 20:22, with sophomore Amy Pomante fifth, six seconds behind, and Mead improved to 10-0.
The outcome left Linder in tears and unable to exhort his team to the finish.
“No, no. I didn’t dream of it and didn’t want to pursue it,” said Linder of Mt. Spokane’s title challenge. “I felt better off with longer term goals – making it to regional, seeing if we had a chance to qualify for state – and not burdening ourselves with racing hard every week.”
In O’Reilly and Klier, the new coach had a solid one-two punch. He said he knew Zalud had talent but kept her mileage low through September before upping the ante and beginning speed work this month.
“I talked to her father and decided if I gave her a challenge she could do it,” said Linder. “We discussed making a move on the hill and she did it. I don’t know what my expectations are for her yet, but I think this really gives us a shot at maybe winning regional.”
Another thing he discovered was that his runners, Pomante in particular, were diagnosed with iron deficiency. Since treatment, Linder said, their performances have been the difference between night and day, as Mead discovered.
In other girls races, second place North Central (9-1) topped Cheney (3-7) and Gonzaga Prep (3-8) with a one-two-three finish by Mary Graesser, Rachel Ballard and Kayla Pattison at Salnave Park in Cheney….Host Central Valley (9-2) beat Lewis and Clark (7-3), Shadle Park (5-6) and Ferris (4-6). Anna Layman shattered the course record set earlier by O’Reilly by 30 seconds in record 18:13. Runnerup Saxon Becky Mackelprang, also topped the previous mark with a time of 18:39….East Valley (5-5) continued its resurgence at home, beating University (6-5), Rogers (1-9) and Clarkston (0-10). Knight Jo E. Mayer won in a course record 19:44.
Mead and Ferris (both 10-0) and NC (9-1) will race next Wednesday at Seven Mile.
“You only have so many races in your legs during a season,” said Panthers coach Pat Tyson, “but you definitely have to have a fine performance next week. You want to win the conference title.”
The Panthers showed what they could do at Siemers Farm when Dylan Hatcher (15:54) and Taylor Nepon (15:55) shattered the course record of 16:10 set by Cameron Schwehr in 2002. As a team they had seven of the top eight placers during 16-47 win over Mt. Spokane (8-2) and 15-50 over West Valley (5-6)….Ferris swept Central Valley (7-4), Lewis and Clark (5-5) and Shadle Park (5-6). Robert Cosby set a CV course record of 15:48 and teammate David Hickerson was a second behind. The Highlanders beat LC….NC was nearly perfect in Cheney with the top six finishers, separated by 24 seconds, in wins over Gonzaga (3-8) and the Blackhawks (0-10)….University (5-6) beat East Valley (4-7), Rogers (2-8 and Clarkson (0-10) – even though the top two placers were Knights Nick Atwood and Tyler Thatcher.