TACOMA – They just couldn’t crush the kickers.
Fortunately, two of the kickers were from Spokane County.
In four of the six 3,200-meter races that highlighted Thursday night’s opening session of StarTrack XXIX at Mt. Tahoma High School, fast finishers ruled.
Cheney sophomore Sanne Holland and Lewis and Clark senior Kenji Bierig were two of those.
North Central’s Katie Knight and Vince Hamilton and Shadle Park’s Nathan Weitz and Katie Weitz succumbed to stronger stretch runs.
All but Hamilton finished with a personal record, even though the girls ran with a strong headwind on the homestretch and some rain before conditions calmed to near perfect for the boys.
There were seven field event finals for the combined 4A/3A/2A track meet, and field events are the rule for today with 21 finals and just the high hurdle finals on the track.
A year ago Holland was fifth, about 8 seconds behind runner-up Marina Roberts of Kingston, with a time she didn’t quite reach this season.
“I knew my times coming in weren’t what I’m capable of,” Holland said. “My coach told me I could definitely run under 11:10, probably under 11.”
She also knew she could get Roberts in the stretch.
“I ran against her in Pasco and we were pretty close the whole way and I kind of outkicked her,” she said.
But she also had to be in position to use the kick.
“I saw her start to go and mentally I wasn’t quite sure, but then it was just like a switch I had to turn on and just go,” Holland said. “Then when I passed her, I hoped I wasn’t kicking too soon. Mentally, I thought maybe I kicked too soon, but my legs felt fine so I let my legs go.”
Her 31-second PR of 10:50.12 was a winner by 5 seconds and just .12 shy of the meet record.
“I could hear her the whole time,” Roberts said. “Every time I race her she outkicks me.”
The front of the pack in the 3,200 stayed together through six laps, with Bierig comfortably in the middle.
“I felt really good the first mile, just being in the middle of the chase pack,” Bierig said. “Once the pace dropped off, I decided to take it with 600 meters to go. I felt the group was pretty worn down and I was back there saving up for a while. I thought it was a good moment to move when no one was really ready for it.”
Judging by the crowd he thought someone was closing – maybe Mead sophomore Andrew Gardner, who set a freshman record in this race last year but slipped to fifth. Once Bierig hit the homestretch, he knew he would win the sprint.
The state cross country champion, who will run at Arizona next year, finished in 9:01.71, taking about 3 seconds off the school record he set last week. He won by a second, despite no real plan.
The girls race was even tighter than the 2A race that preceded it.
Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight ran shoulder to shoulder for 3,100 meters with Kendra Weitz tucked behind them.
Neale, the state leader from Glacier Peak, pulled away coming into the wind on the homestretch for a meet record and PR of 10:12.33.
Knight had a 9-second PR of 10:15.02 and Weitz had a 13-second PR of 10:20.09, which was more than 11 seconds under Neale’s meet record from last year.
“My strategy was if she was going to outkick me, she was going to outkick me off a fast pace,” Knight said. “She’s got a great kick. It’s hard to beat.”
“It worked out perfectly,” Weitz said. “The backstretch, the wind was with us and they gained a little bit of a lead, but I stayed in contact. But coming on the homestretch I just tucked back in. I kind of tried to go around them the last stretch, but they have big kicks.”
The hot boys race had Hamilton, the only runner in the state under 9 minutes, and Weitz running side by side with Kamiakin’s Anthony Armstrong and Jeff Bastian of Glacier Peak right there. Then at the start of the seventh lap Weitz took off, with Armstrong shifting gears about 100 meters later.
“The pace started slowing down a little bit five laps in,” Weitz said. “I had to take the lead and push harder and maybe try to get a gap. I knew I was probably followed really close. I heard footsteps behind me with 600 meters left and then with a lap left I saw Anthony there. I knew I had to dig deep and keep pushing through it.”
Armstrong blew past Weitz with about 200 meters to go and won in a state-best 8:57.36. Weitz had his best time, 5 seconds back.
Hamilton, who didn’t push himself at the district or regional meet, wasn’t happy finishing fourth in a good time of 9:04.70 that was 6 seconds behind his PR.
“Armstrong always has that kick at the end, it’s something you have to be ready for,” he said. “I didn’t break him enough. I’m not pleased. Those people wanted it more. Anthony and Nathan fought for it. I just didn’t have it.”
The Mt. Spokane boys 1,600 relay team, after easily winning its heat, was later disqualified because one of the runners apparently ran on the line for four consecutive strides on a turn.