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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eagles’s lead runner Skylar Ovnicek keeps eye on districts

West Valley High School runner Skylar Ovnicek warms up for training laps at Plantes Ferry Park in Spokane Valley on Tuesday. (Jesse Tinsley)
West Valley High School runner Skylar Ovnicek warms up for training laps at Plantes Ferry Park in Spokane Valley on Tuesday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Steve Christilaw

There are only a few miles left in Skylar Ovnicek’s high school cross country career, and the West Valley senior is ready for them. More importantly, he’s ready to share them.

West Valley clinched the boys Great Northern League cross country regular season championship last week when the Eagles knocked off Cheney in a dual meet on the Blackhawks’ home course.

With the bye heading into the weekend’s district championships, Ovnicek is busily reminding his teammates to maintain their focus.

“You still have to run your race at districts,” he said. “No one gives you anything in a race like that. We still have a couple teams that we have to watch out for.

“We’ll end up having more than two weeks of training from our final race and the district race. We need to keep our focus and not lose sight of our goal.”

Still, for the first time in recent memory, the Eagles are league champions, and that’s something to celebrate – even if you do it in a low-key manner.

“This is the biggest achievement we’ve had since I’ve been associated with this program,” Ovnicek said. “I’m very proud of it.”

Ovnicek started cross country and track in middle school. As an eighth-grader he realized that he had what it takes to be good at it and got serious. He trained hard the summer before his freshman year at West Valley and was soon the Eagles No. 1 runner.

Heading into his final post-season, he’s already added his share of achievements to West Valley lore.

He just missed qualifying for the state Class 2A meet as a freshman and has been a mainstay there since. He placed 19th at state as a sophomore and 10th last year.

This year he’s tried something different.

“I’ve kind of embraced the idea of quality over quantity,” he said. “I kind of got the idea from talking to my dad. This summer I wasn’t interested in just running a lot of miles. I tried to get the most out of the miles I did run.

“The whole goal has been to get to this time of season without having so much wear and tear on my legs.”

It’s difficult to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions, Ovnicek said. It’s difficult to compare how his legs felt a year ago to how they feel now. But he feels pretty good heading into the home stretch.

For Ovnicek, the home stretch will be about scouting opponents and making good in-race decisions.

For elite runners like Ovnicek, a cross country race is a solo act. There are no teammates around to help set a pace, let alone push it.

In last week’s race with Cheney, Ovnicek dueled with the Blackhawks’ Steaven Zachman, crossing the finish line almost a full second ahead for the win.

“There are some guys that I will definitely keep an eye on during the race,” he said. “As much as anything, though, I try to gauge myself by how my legs feel during the race,”

Ovnicek will especially keep an eye on the East Valley duo of Chad Stevens and Scott Kopczynski, who placed second and fourth, respectively, at state a year ago.

“I’ve been running against those guys for a long time, going back to middle school,” Ovnicek grinned. “We’ve got a pretty good relationship off the course. Once the race starts, though, we’re all business.

“That’s true of the whole running community. The guys from Mt. Spokane, North Central – all of them – we all support one another and we enjoy competing against each other.”

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