The East Valley Knights got a glimpse of the road back to the state Class 2A cross country meet, and what alarmed coach Bill Close wasn’t what was in his team’s rearview mirror.
“We knew that Deer Park was going to be really tough and (the Stags’) No. 1 runner (Daniel Amann) is in a class by himself,” he said after Wednesday’s Great Northern League opening meet at Cheney’s Salnave Park. “But we also lost to Cheney and we thought we had a pretty good shot at finishing ahead of them. We’ve got our work to do because, with realignment, we’re going to have to have a district meet and only two teams advance from there to the regional meet. That district meet is going to be a real battle.”
A year ago the Knights reached the state meet as the No. 3 regional seed behind those same two teams. Deer Park finished a distant third at state behind champion Lindbergh and Sehome, which finished a single point behind. Cheney was eighth with the Knights 14th.
Deer Park’s Amann already has turned in a state top 10 time of 15:49 in winning the Moses Lake Invitational last week – the only top 10 time from a runner east of the Cascade Mountains.
At Wednesday’s meet in Cheney, both Deer Park and the host Blackhawks had a pair of runners cover the 5,000 meter course in under 17 minutes, with Amann posting the top time: 16:22.4, and teammate Nolan Woodward right behind at 16:37.6.
East Valley’s top runner a year ago, Cody Edwards, graduated along with two other members of that state meet squad, and the two top returning members of that squad were freshmen.
“The four kids we have back from last year had the best summer workouts we’ve ever had here at East Valley,” Close said. “They not only got in lots of miles, they even did interval workouts trying to increase their speed.
“That’s what I love about cross country and wrestling: you can’t just wish yourself faster; kids have to decide to be good because it’s a choice.”
When you’re competing in a race that covers three miles, all those training miles and all that interval work and speed training pays dividends. It’s the difference between having barely enough watery gas in your tank or entering a race with high octane in reserve.
“These are two sports where you can actually work yourself better,” Close said. “You have to get your miles in over the summer. If you wait to start training when practice starts on Aug. 20, it’s too late. And if you wait until school starts …”
Over the summer Scott Kopczynski turned himself into the team’s No. 1 runner after covering the state course in 17 minutes, 18 seconds. Chad Stevens, the team’s No. 2 runner, actually finished ahead of Kopczynski at state with a 17:13.2.
Senior Cade Hartshorn and junior Casey Pederson also return after running 17:37.2 and 17:52.1 in Pasco.
Behind those top four runners, Close said, positions still are sorting themselves out.
Dallin Bice graduated from last year’s squad, but his younger brother, Jordan, has stepped into his varsity spot.
“Part of our problem is that we don’t have the numbers we usually have,” the coach said. “We have 12 kids total to work with, so we can’t afford to have anyone get hurt and we can’t really afford for anyone to have an off day.
“We usually get 20 to 25 kids, which is what we had last year. The numbers are down for eighth-grade runners. We do have some pretty good freshmen this year, and in fact I have two of them starting on the varsity.”
East Valley turned in a strong showing at the Coeur d’Alene Invitational at Hayden Canyon last weekend. The Knights placed fourth behind Coeur d’Alene and Lake City, which tied with 42 team points, and Post Falls. Kopczynski placed third overall with a time of 16:08.2. Stevens was 12th, a minute behind. Freshman Colton Brown was East Valley’s sixth runner to cross at Coeur d’Alene.
In some ways it helps for the Knights to have gotten an early, close-up look at both Cheney and Deer Park in the first league meet of the season.
“Well, it does and it doesn’t,” he said. “If it’s just a matter of a few seconds here and there, it does help. If you aren’t close, it’s not so much of a help.
“The interesting thing about cross country now is that every kid can log onto athletic.net and see what everyone’s times are for any given meet. One of our kids did that for this first meet. He had everyone slotted for this entire race. Now, you still have to run the race and anyone can have a bad day. But there aren’t very many secrets going into a race these days.”
The Knights will join the field for the Erik Anderson/Runners Soul invitational meet at Plantes Ferry Park today. Next week’s league schedule sees East Valley take on Colville and Clarkston at Clarkston, Cheney and Pullman square off at Salnave Park and West Valley hosts Deer Park at Plantes Ferry Park.
West Valley won both of its season-opening races in Pullman, knocking off both the Greyhounds and Clarkston, with sophomore Skylar Ovnicek turning in a top time of 18:09.
“What might help us is that we’re home for back-to-back meets once we go to Clarkston next week,” Close said. “We’ve had to alter our course a little this year. We used to have that great hill behind the football stadium that we call ‘The Widow Maker.’ We’ve had to take that out because homeowners up there asked that we not run on their property. Still, it’s a pretty good home course and we like running here.”
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