You’ve seen them all summer long as you’ve traveled around the Spokane Valley. Groups of runners churning through the summer heat, stride after steady stride, mile after lonely mile, day after sweaty day.
They all have a trait in common. Their running isn’t so much for a where – although they’ll tell you they’re training for Pasco and the Sun Willows Golf Course – they’re running for a when. Specifically, Nov. 8. The day of the Washington state high school championship cross-country meet.
“You need all those miles to make you strong for the fall,” University boys coach Mike Barbaro said. “I have a bunch of guys who put in 500 miles over the summer. I have a couple who did 700 and one who logged 800 miles.”
The secret to boys cross-country in Spokane, however, is this: You can be very good – good enough to place in that state meet – and still not make it out of the Greater Spokane League.
“No doubt – the GSL is the toughest league in the country,” East Valley coach Bill Close said. “You can be very good and still finish a long way back.”
“Every year we have teams ranked nationally,” he said. “This year Ferris is ranked No. 5 in the country and North Central is ranked No. 17. In our region we also have Kamiakin ranked nationally and we’re going to have to face them to get to state.”
A different poll, Harriers Top 25, ranks the Saxons No. 1 in the nation, with Henry M. Jackson High, from Mill Creek, ranked No. 13 and North Central No. 14.
Break the polls down to just teams from the Pacific Northwest and you find Ferris, Jackson and North Central ranked Nos. 1-3. GSL challengers Lewis and Clark, Mt. Spokane and University all are poised to break into the Northwest top 10.
The league will send three Class 4A teams to the Eastern Regional meet at the end of the season. All of the league’s Class 3A teams advance to the regional. The regional meet will send four Class 4A teams to the state meet while only two Class 3A teams advance.
Central Valley Bears
The boys have a new coach in Kieran Mahoney, who helped Cheney win a state cross-country championship in 1989.
Mahoney has an impressive pedigree, working with legendary Mead coach Pat Tyson as a student teacher, then moving on to build an impressive program in Port Angeles, winning four consecutive Olympic League titles.
“The bar has been set by the Meads, Ferrises and NC’s of the league and my goal is, in the next few years, to have teams that can go out and chase it,” he said. “It’s fun and challenging to build a program, and we will be there in a few years!”
The Bears have more than 50 runners out and have the talent to surprise teams this fall.
Senior Rudy Spencer is the team’s No. 1 runner and was the only Bear to crack the Top 10 in the league opener Wednesday at Central Valley against Class 3A powers North Central and Mt. Spokane, finishing in 16 minutes, 54 seconds.
The Bears had eight runners cover the Liberty Lake course in under 18:30 in the season-opening All-Valley meet, including junior John Weiser, who turned in a brisk 17:47.
The CV girls have a deep program and field a solid group of runners who run as a team.
The Bears beat both NC and Mt. Spokane on Wednesday by placing six runners among the top 10 finishers, led by sophomore Jamie Lambie, who placed third in 20:47, followed by five teammates who crossed within 23 seconds of each other to finish Nos. 5 through 9. Freshmen Skye Sanders and Alex Moore both were among the first six Bears to finish.
Lambie cracked the Top 10 at the season-opening Tracy Walters Invitational at Audubon Park, turning in a 20:04.
“Right now we have some good lead runners and we’re working on our depth,” Close explained. “We’re building. We’ll have to see just what we can do by the end of the season.”
The problem facing the Knights is this: North Central is the three-time defending state Class 3A champion and is loaded once more while Mt. Spokane is right on its heels. The teams enter the season ranked No. 1 and 2 in the state.
In the team’s GSL opener at Liberty Lake, two Knights, both juniors, cracked the Top 10 against University, Gonzaga Prep and Rogers. Cody Edwards was sixth in 17:33 and Jaren Novakovich was ninth in 18:01.
While the girls Class 3A picture is more wide-open behind third-ranked Mt. Spokane, competition still figures to be fierce. Hanford is ranked No. 10 in the preseason and only two Eastern Region teams qualify for state.
Longtime coach Nick Lazanis has a solid core of veteran runners back from a year ago, led by senior Chelsey Denzin and junior Jenna Briggs. His Knights finished a point behind U-Hi and ahead of Rogers in the league opener.
Freshman Alyssa Harmon was the team’s top finisher, crossing fifth in 22:34. Sophomore Megan Denzin was eighth in 22:46.
This year’s senior class is the first batch of cross-country runners to have spent their entire career running for Barbaro.
“They’re been with me all four years,” he said. “They’re the ones who have been with me and helped us build the program.”
The Titans are ranked No. 10 in the state for a reason. They have a solid group back from a year ago and have a equally solid junior varsity feeding the team plenty of quality depth.
In the season opener at Liberty Lake, three Titans finished behind medalist Byron Groh of Gonzaga Prep: Junior Jon Smith was second in 16:49, junior Christian Bucko third in 16:54 and senior Steven Witkoe was fourth in 17:08. Junior B.J. Smith was eighth in 18:00.
U-Hi edged Gonzaga Prep by two points and easily surpassed both East Valley and Rogers in the quad meet.
“Right now we’re running off all the hard work these guys did over the summer,” Barbero said. “You need those miles as a base to build on once the season starts and that’s what we’re doing.
“This is the toughest league in any sport in the country and to begin to see our program get some recognition at the state level is big. It’s a big inspiration for us.”
Girls coach Holly Weiler takes over the program this year and has a pair of strong seniors leading the way in Lauren Baird and Megan Hawkins.
Baird was the first Titan to cross in the GSL opener, placing sixth in 22:41. Junior Mariya Sichar was ninth in 23:01 and sophomore Magen Potter was 10th in 23:08.
West Valley Eagles
Two Great Northern League teams are ranked in both the boys and girls Class 2A state poll. Neither of them are the Eagles.
Coach Jim McLachlan’s boys varsity all are young – without a senior in the mix. Junior Brady Hargrove is the team’s No. 1 runner, followed by juniors Kody Hauck and Alex Hurd. Sophomore Steve DeGroot should be among the team’s top three runners and freshmen Alex Coburn and Aaron Pogue.
“We’re young,” the coach said. “We’ll have to see how some of our young guys develop. I think we can be really good next year. This year, we’ll have to see how things work out.”
On the girls side, McLachlan has three new faces that should help the squad – two of them foreign exchange students.
“Pauline Dupont is an exchange student from France and Anna Lilja-Jensen is from Denmark,” he said. “And we have a transfer student from Detroit, Linda White.”
Back from last year are seniors Alex Fraser, Senaida Monroy and Rachel Rubright. Junior Emily Nelson also returns and McLachlan expects freshmen Brianna Stansberry and Tiffany Shipman to contribute.