As Andrew Gardner surged to the finish line and then stumbled off the edge of the track at Spokane Falls Community College at the conclusion of the 4A boys 1,600 meters Saturday afternoon, an amazing thing happened.
A handful of tapped-out 3A boys distance runners who were hanging around the awards stand weaved through the finish-line crowd to whack Gardner on the back and whisper in his ear.
Gardner wasn’t just any third-place finisher at the state-qualifying Eastern Regional 4A/3A meets. The Mead sophomore, who was second in the 3,200 at state last year, second in cross country last fall and second in the 3,200 the night before, tumbled to the infield on the corner of the bell lap after some jostling in the physical race.
As Gardner hit the ground, Mead’s hopes of winning a third straight state title appeared to take a hit as only the top three finishers automatically advance. The crowd, after a gasp, began to buzz as Gardner recovered to take off after a strong lead group. The noise became a full-fledged roar as he began reeling in runners down the home stretch.
“I was running, the next thing I know I was on the ground,” Gardner said. “I ran in fear. That is one thing that pushed me. I thought this is my last chance. I’m just going to put everything I worked on together and run hard. I didn’t want to sprint the whole thing. I’ll see what develops, and whatever I have the last 150 meters, I’m going to go.”
No one was more impressed than the five 3A runners who had just warmed up the crowd with a race so fast that the top five were under the automatic state-qualifying team.
“To see Gardner dig down like that is awesome,” North Central senior Casey Adams said. “These are guys I usually race, I get to cheer for now. It’s all part of Spokane running.
“You get that adrenaline going, dude, and he killed it. He’s a tough kid, no way around it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s great to be out here.”
It took that kind of performance to overshadow everything else, which included precocious Mead senior Baylee Mires winning three individual races before anchoring a first-place 1,600 relay.
“I was warming up for the 800 (after winning the 1,600 and 400) thinking, ‘Am I really doing this? What the heck was I thinking?’ ” Mires said. “I’m a little mind-boggled.”
It was a mind-boggling day – or days in the case of the two-day meet.
Mead boys and girls ran away the 4A team titles. The boys had 137 points, 51 in front of Richland. The girls had 145, 49 more than Central Valley.
NC’s boys had 123 points, 25 ahead of Mt. Spokane for the 3A title. Kamiakin won the girls title with 94½ to 80 for Mt. Spokane.
The boys 1,600 was impressive without Gardner’s performance.
Lewis and Clark’s Kenji Bierg, who had an impressive 3,200 win on Friday, charged back for the double in 4:15.90.
“I was pretty worried. I guess I race well,” he said. “I didn’t feel my legs for a while (until) at the 600 when we started to catch up to Connor (McCandless of Gonzaga Prep, who sprinted to a big early lead). No one took the initiative to go around him at 500, so I made a move to get to the front and just hope I had enough to hold on.”
Jacob Smith of Wenatchee, who was on Gardner’s shoulder and ended up second, was disqualified, moving Gardner up to second and Walla Walla’s Aaron Nelson on to state.
Mires admitted to some fear in adding the 400 to her usual lineup, where she is the two-time defending state champ in the longer races and Mead is the defending relay champs.
She started with the 1,600 (5:09.06) at 1:20 p.m. The 400 (57.50) came just before 2 with the 800 (2:15.40) about 3:10. The relay (3:57.51) was the last race of the day at 4:35.
“If I put it together, it could be amazing,” Mires said. “I hate failure, everybody does. But I might as well fail brilliantly if it’s going to be a failure. But it’s going to be pretty cool if I do it.”
Her relay teammates helped take some stress off. The opening trio of Tymen Grant, Evie Codd and Kylie Drynan are statebound on three relays.
The meet started off with a bang, when University senior Colton Harrington made state – and won regional – on his last throw in shot put.
The half-foot PR of 52 feet, 5½ inches wasn’t a surprise except that he was only at 48 feet on his first five throws.
“The kid that threw just before me put me in fourth and I came back and took first,” he said. “I got a little frustrated, not too bad though. I throw better when I’m calm.”
The Mt. Spokane triple jumpers swept the top three spots, led by sophomore Dane Larson, who has pushed his best up 14 inches in winning district and regional (42-11). Trevor Kissinger and Shane Concepcion were within a half foot.
“Right before the district meet, the coach said you guys could take 1-2-3 if you really work on it,” Larson said.
It was quite expected that five 3A boys would get under the state standard of 4:18.27, but there were no guarantees considering three of them were the qualifiers in a fast 3,200.
But from the start they took off until stringing out down the home stretch. Kamiakin’s Anthony Armstrong won in a record 4:10.61 with 3,200 record-breaker Nathan Weitz of Shadle Park less than a second back.
Then it was a trio of NC seniors, Adams, Andrew Wordell and Vince Hamilton, who had almost 3 seconds to spare.
Not to be out done, the girls put on a mini-show.
Shadle’s Kendra Weitz, who pushed NC’s Katie Knight to a regional 3,200 record on Friday, had a huge PR of 4:51.89, but was 2 seconds behind Knight’s record 4:49.70.
Aric Walden of Newport ran the fastest 110 hurdles in the state this year to highlight an outstanding day for Northeast A teams in the District 6-7 1A regional at Riverside, which sent the top three on to state at Cheney next weekend.
Walden, a senior, also won the 300 hurdles (39.94) while his sophomore sister was a triple winner, taking the 100 hurdles (15.14), the long jump (16-10) and triple jump (35-2 1/2).
Lakeside won the boys meet with 114 points, 17 ahead of Freeman. Tucker Rudy of Freeman won the 100 (11.24) and 200 (22.64).
Riverside’s girls had 106 point to beat Colville by 15. Jess Mildes sparked the Rams with a distance double (5:17.01, 11:33.20).