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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  High school sports

2023 Spring Sports Preview: Mt. Spokane 4x400 relay team looks to ‘three-peat’ as state champs in new season

Members of the defending state champion Mt. Spokane 4x400 relay team, from left, Ben Sonneland, Bode Gardner, Bradley Runge and Jackson Hale, pose at the school.  (Keenan Gray)
Members of the defending state champion Mt. Spokane 4x400 relay team, from left, Ben Sonneland, Bode Gardner, Bradley Runge and Jackson Hale, pose at the school. (Keenan Gray)
By Keenan Gray For The Spokesman-Review

Mt. Spokane track and field coach Dan Figueira can recall so many great moments he’s witnessed throughout his track and field coaching career.

If he had to pick his favorites, there are two that stand out among everything else.

The first was in 2019 when the Mt. Spokane boys won the 4x400-meter relay state title for the first time in 10 years.

“That group was kind of special,” Figueira said. “We had a special kid in Spencer Barrera, who was a lights-out kid. Personally, for me, it was pretty fun because my son was on that team. He had been on that team the year before as a sophomore and then as a junior was a leader for us. Then we had two other good sophomores on that team. It was pretty fun to coach those guys.”

His other favorite moment came from this last season.

Three years since the last state meet, the Wildcats repeated as the State 3A 4x400 champions thanks to the team of Boden Gardner, Jackson Hale, Ben Sonneland and Bradley Runge as they clocked 3 minutes, 23.35 seconds to beat out Central Kitsap.

Figueira could spend hours talking about the two state champs, but one is more noteworthy than the other for one reason.

With the 2022 team being made up of three juniors and one sophomore, all four athletes were slated to return for the 2023 season.

“There are different kinds of special,” Figueira said. “Obviously, it’s a little personal with my son and the other group. In terms of special, all these guys get to come back this year. Because after taking pictures and everybody celebrated, we’re like, ‘OK, now we’re going to put in the work to repeat,’ and that part’s pretty special.”

Now as seniors and juniors, this year’s Wildcats 4x400 team is the early favorites to repeat in hopes of bringing home a third consecutive state title.

“We obviously knew, but the main goal was to get to state and try to win that,” Runge said. “I think it took us a little bit to be like, ‘We’re all back,’ and so what that means is we’re going to have to work as hard. It’s not going to be easy, but we have a good chance to run it back again and get a three-peat.”

Similar to Figueira, Runge has a close bond with the 2019 team. His older brother, Craig, was the third leg on the state title team.

The two were hoping to run the 4x400 together and win a state title during Craig’s junior and senior seasons when Bradley was a freshman and sophomore. Due to the pandemic, however, the 2020 season was canceled and the following year there wasn’t a state meet.

While Craig had graduated, Bradley was still determined to match his brother’s title.

“We wanted to win it together, but that didn’t happen,” Runge said. “Winning it was cool and just to be able to share something … It’s kind of cool to share something with your brother … it’s special.”

Like any state championship team, the 2022 Mt. Spokane 4x400 team saw its up and downs throughout the season.

The group wasn’t fully assembled until midway through the season. The Wildcats’ lead anchor, Gardner, was out early in the season with a broken wrist, leaving established members Runge and Sonneland to carry the group.

“That went through ebbs and flows last year,” Figueira said. “Gardner broke his wrist, so he was out for about three weeks. During that time, we had a couple of alternates running on it.”

One of those alternates was Hale, who emerged as a leading candidate to fill the final fourth spot upon Gardner’s return.

Come April, the team got their chance to race together for the first time when Gardner returned.

In their first race, they ran 3:28.96.

“Really coming out of Pasco, we knew we had three and then Bode (Gardner) got his running cast on the week after Pasco,” Figueira said. “In mid-April, we started to emerge and turned around and look at each other saying, ‘This team kind of has a chance.’ ”

The group continued to get faster as weeks passed by. They had dropped another 5 seconds to run 3:24.94 and moved themselves to No. 1 in the state heading into regionals. A week later, they won the regional title and advanced to state for the first time – similar to most of the kids around the state.

“For us, that was different having kids who’ve never been there,” Figueira said. “State can overwhelm lots of kids, and I think part of not having state the year before I think benefited us.”

Despite lack of experience, the boys didn’t shy away on the big stage in Tacoma. They lived up to it instead.

In the state final, Gardner got out to a great start to put the Wildcats in front early. He handed off to Hale, who ran a strong, aggressive second leg before exchanging with Sonneland on the third leg. Sonneland kept the lead heading into the final exchange as he handed off to Runge, who steamrolled through the final 400 to give Mt. Spokane the state championship win.

Their winning time was another personal-best effort in 3:23.25.

“It’s so much bigger than almost everything else,” Hale said. “We finally worked that whole last season just doing all these hard workouts, working over spring break, trying to do as many workouts as we can. I mean, it paying off was the biggest payoff you could ask for.”

As the new season gets underway, the goal for this year is as simple as it can get – win back-to-back titles as a group. Not only would it solidify their legacies among the best athletes in school history, but it would continue Mt. Spokane’s run of dominance in the 4x400 event for years to come.

“You look back on things to be able to say three in a row, I think that would special for me as a coach but definitely special for those kids,” Figueira said. “Not just that they’re doing it, or doing it as a team, but doing it kind of for our school is special.”

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