TACOMA – There is more than one way to skin a cat – and win a state track championship.
North Central won the school’s first boys title last year with a small group of guys coming up big on the final weekend.
The Indians defended that State 3A crown Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School because they are, indeed, a team. Without performing up to the standards they have set through the year, NC managed to get points from many different sources to hit 52, good for a 14-point advantage on Renton.
“Winning a state title is very, very tough,” Indians coach Kelly Walters said. “Going in you have to have the potential to score a lot of points. We had that. A lot of things didn’t go as we expected, but we pulled it off.”
Fittingly, for the distance-running power it was the 1,600 meters that put them over the top with Andrew Kimpel, Leon Dean and Ben Johnston blazing down the homestretch to finish second, third and fourth to wrap it up.
Earlier Dean (fifth) and Alex Avilla (eighth) placed in the 800, and on Thursday Kimpel and Johnston went 1-2 in the 3,200.
“My goal was to win the 800,” Dean said. “This made up for it.”
Spokane’s other 3A champions came from Mt. Spokane – the Wildcats’ 1,600 boys relay team getting a come-from-behind stretch run from anchor Jason Nokes and Kaycee Smith taking the girls pole vault.
Rainier Beach won the 3A girls meet with 65 points. Shadle Park placed sixth and Mt. Spokane seventh.
As a group, NC didn’t have it this weekend. It’s a good thing the Indians had it last weekend when there were only two automatic qualifiers per event out of regional.
One of the bonus qualifiers was Johnston, which was why the 1,600 turned out to be worth 19 NC points.
The way the race played out, it looked like it was going to be less. Michael Miller of Mount Rainier took the lead with about 300 meters left and others came up to challenge the NC runners. But when it counted, all three Indians rallied and Kimpel lost to Miller by .07.
“I decided I still had a chance to get it,” said Kimpel, a future Washington State Cougar who led the majority of the race. “I think I went too early. I did most of the work for him. I’m still happy with second, I was fifth last year.”
“We were planning on going out and getting rid of the kickers,” said Dean, who will run at Texas. “Andrew ran the first lap OK. I didn’t quite do my job on the second.”
No one had a better closing charge than Nokes, who helped Mt. Spokane, which was recognized earlier as the 3A academic state champion, lower its school record to 3:21.76.
“He was pretty far out there,” Nokes said of the Bonney Lake anchor. “I just thought it was my last race, my senior year, a state championship. I just wanted it.”
Bo Schuetzle of Shadle Park had another impressive day, capping off a career in which he had PRs in his last four jumping competitions.
A day after a half-foot improvement in the long jump produced a silver medal, the Eastern Washington-bound football player improved by 15 inches to 45-93/4 in the triple jump for another silver.
“It’s the haircut,” he joked, rubbing his newly shaved head. “I don’t know. It was a good couple of days. I think I just peaked at the right time. I worked hard all season and it came together at the right time.”
Smith added to Mt. Spokane’s burgeoning pole vaulting legacy by becoming the Wildcats’ second state champion in three years.
Smith, a senior, joins Jordan Roskelley as the Wildcats’ second girls champ and became the school’s third champ overall with a vault of 10-6.
Like many female vaulters, Shawn Gumke’s latest product comes from a gymnastics background and took to the event quickly.
“I decided to try it my sophomore year,” Smith said. “It looked like fun.”
Her career best of 10-9 came during a third-place state finish a year ago.
“I’ve been struggling on and off (this year),” she said. “Today I felt ready.”
On a comfortable and breezy day, Smith entered the competition at 9 feet and did not miss until her first attempt at 10-6. She nailed it on her second try and had a good jump at 11-0 before accepting her title.
“It was my last year and I wanted to be the state champion,” Smith said. “I knew I was high in the standings and was capable of doing it depending upon how everyone else jumped.”
“The 3A heights are a little lower this year,” Gumke said. “But you can’t take that (title) away from her.”
Smith’s was the only individual title by a GSL girl, but you’d have thought the third-place finish in the 1,600 was one by Shadle distance star Andrea Nelson.
Shortly before she powered across the finish line in 5:11.75 after making up a ton of ground on the final lap, Nelson emphatically pounded the air with clenched fists.
“I was just happy,” said Nelson, a two-time cross country winner. “I finally had a good race. It’s been a long year.”
She called the season-ending effort the beginning of a new year, after struggling earlier to place sixth in the 3,200.
“Two nights ago I had nothing. I was just dead,” she said. “This is a jump-start for next year.”
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