Kieran Mahoney treated the state championship cross-country race just like Fight Club.
The first rule of Fight Club is, according to the movie, don’t talk about Fight Club.
“When I printed out the schedule for the year, I didn’t include the state championships,” he said. “I did include the regional race because I was pretty sure we were going to make it to regionals.”
But the first weekend of November was left blank, he said.
“I’ve always told them that if they take care of their own race, if they run like brothers and do what they have to do, winning will take care of itself,” he said.
For the first time in school history, it did in every way. Central Valley ran to the state Class 4A title, edging Eisenhower 89-130. The top five finishers for the Bears finished 38.7 seconds apart.
“I think the guys are a little disappointed they didn’t keep the spread under 30 seconds,” Mahoney said. “But I’ll take it.”
Logan Giese, who was the first to cross the finish line for CV, was 11th overall, seventh for state title consideration, with a time of 15 minutes, 34.9 seconds, and was the lone senior starter in the championship meet.
Sophomore Spencer Jensen came in at 15:54.7 and was the second Bear to finish, placing 22nd overall and 13th among team title contenders. Junior Corey Hunter finished in 16:01.4; sophomore Briton Demars, 16:13.8; sophomore Colton Pegram, 16:22.6; junior Matt Hommel, 16:27.8; and junior Austin Seely, 16:34.5.
“I’ll have to look but I can’t think of another state championship team that started three sophomores in the state championships,” Mahoney said. “You just don’t see that.”
Mahoney said he first began to broach the subject of state midway through the season, printing out note cards for each runner listing the teams he felt were the strongest contenders for the state title, with comparative times listed on the back.
“Everyone was to keep that card with them at all times,” he said. “And the guys would check each other. We called it card check. I’d check them, they’d check each other. If you got caught without the card, it cost you.
“You had to buy the other guy a chocolate milk,” the coach said. “I think we had to buy seven chocolate milks.
“The idea was that they should keep those times in mind, but I didn’t want them to spend a lot of time thinking about state.”
There really is no need to spend a lot of time thinking about other teams, especially teams the Bears would not see until the state meet, not when the GSL is home to some of the toughest cross-country competition in the country.
“We have to compete with North Central and Mt. Spokane and Lewis and Clark and Mead and Ferris,” he said. “In fact, when a lot of teams were traveling to run in big races, we stayed home because we didn’t feel we needed to do that. Instead, we had hard practices at home on those Saturdays and I think that actually helped us.”
Mahoney took his team to Richland to race, and the team entered the Tracy Walters Invitational at Audubon Park.
Still, the coach said, he was surprised by how relaxed his team was at state.
“Even when we went out Friday to jog the state course, they were loose and relaxed, even joking with one another,” he said. “In fact, they commented on some of the other teams on the course, about how tight they already looked.
“But when it came time to race, it was like they turned into a completely different team and were all business.”
The Bears were assigned the 24th starting spot for the title race – as far to the right of the starting pack as you can get.
“We told the guys that it was to our advantage to be on the outside like that,” Mahoney said. “You didn’t have to worry about anyone to your right, and you could stay on the outside until you were ready to merge left. The start at state can be tricky, especially because there’s a bottleneck on the course about 700 meters in; we avoided all that.”
One of the traps for young teams in the state race always is the first third of the course. Adrenalin kicks in fast and more than a few top-caliber runners have left their best race in the first mile.
“We went out with a very good start,” Mahoney said. “We didn’t start too fast, and in fact some watchers were concerned that our guys were a little too far back. But we were able to finish strong and pick runners off over the last couple miles.”
Part of the incentive for the Bears, the coach said, was to return the Greater Spokane League to the top spot in the state. Spokane teams won every big school cross-country title from 1988 through 2009.
“We talked about that,” he said. “The GSL has not won the state title the past two years. Eisenhower won it two years ago and Gig Harbor won last year. We wanted to bring that trophy home.”
And now the Bears are planning on keeping the trophy for a while.
The CV freshman team won the league championship for the third consecutive year and the coach expects the competition to be fierce for spots on next year’s varsity.
“I have come to fully understand something my former coach at Mead, Pat Tyson, told us,” Mahoney said. “He said that the toughest state championship to win is always the first.”