NC boys take shot at seventh straight title
North Central cross country coach Jon Knight has a dilemma. But it is a problem most coaches would die for.
Which seven of the nine runners he can take to state will he put on the course? Fortunately, Knight has until race time to decide.
The veteran Indians are chasing their seventh straight State 3A championship Saturday in Pasco. Knight said they compare favorably to their national championship team a few years back.
“I think this team wants to prove its mettle,” Knight said.
With No. 1 runner Kai Wilmot in and out of the lineup because of various injuries, Knight has seen others rise. Wilmot didn’t run last weekend at regional because of a sore IT band and Nik Taylor was ill, yet NC still had six of the top 10 finishers in a 27-55-65 win over Kamiakin and Mt. Spokane.
“We’re very deep and that depth showed on Saturday,” Knight said. “This group is heavy on seniors, but it’s interesting that three of our top four are not seniors.”
Of the nine he’s taking to Pasco, all have raced varsity at one time or other. Last week, sophomore Tanner Anderson won the regional race in Wilmot’s absence.
In the Greater Spokane League, the Indians usually had the top five finishers and all seven among the top eight or nine.
Now they are hoping to extend a string of state titles that compares favorably to Mead’s nine straight between 1988 and 1996.
“This is kind of an interesting team,” Knight said. “It’s divided into speed, miler types and 5,000-meter types.”
Isaac Kitzan, Nik Taylor, Sam Holland and Wilmot fall in the latter category.
Among the speed guys is Oliver Reed.
Anderson, Austen Frostad, Keith Williams, Colin Kubik and Vance Collier round out a team that made choosing nine adding to Knight’s dilemma.
“There was a pretty clear separation until a week ago,” Knight said. “Taylor was sick over the weekend and Sam Holland ran really well. Now what do I do? I’m mulling it over and have to make a tough decision.”
Whatever the lineup, NC is expected to extend its remarkable state cross country run. But that comes with its own kind of pressure. Pat Tyson, architect of Mead’s dynasty, once told Knight the basic assumption is that with every title it gets easier. But in some ways it gets harder.
“You feel the pressure,” Knight said. “The bill gets harder to fill.”
He stresses that his runners stay relaxed, do things for the right reason and focus on what matters. That’s why the team undertakes community service projects as a way of putting things into perspective.
Certainly there are other teams out there who will be gunning for No. 1. Joe Hardy of Seattle Prep might be the best individual in state, Knight said. Nathan Hale is a possible team challenger, but its 45 points at district were 18 more than NC’s total of 27.
“You’ve got to show up every week and have a little luck,” Knight said. “With Kai hurt last week, I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep.”
If Wilmot and Taylor are back in the lineup, Knight should be able to rest easy Saturday night.