MOSES LAKE — There’s one more.
This race is for the elite, the best cross country runners Washington state has to offer. They had to prove themselves worthy at the district level before they could even set foot on the WIAA state cross country championship course at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, they say, and time will tell in Saturday’s meet. Moses Lake qualified five runners, two boys and three girls, for the 4A state championships.
“This is the most runners in the past 31 years we’ve qualified since the team went to state in 1986,” Chiefs coach Larry Dagnon said.
The fact is, if any of them finish in the top 50 it will be a special moment for the program. But it is a major stepping stone for the Chiefs.
For senior Zach Owens, this is the final race of his high school career, maybe his last race ever. He and teammate Joshua Cooper qualified for the state championships a year ago. Both will go the distance one more time together.
“All my concentration this year has led to this moment. It’s my last race. I want to take three years of running cross country experience and make it all work for me, leave it all on the course. I want to finish with nothing left, no regrets,” said Owens, who placed sixth at the CBBN District race at Franklin Park in Yakima. “I was 114th last year and what I learned is that you definitely want to get out really fast once the gun goes off.
“I feel like I’m a totally different runner this year. Last year, it was more keep a consistent pace throughout the race. But this year I’ve been going out fast and hanging on. It’s been working and I’ve been improving.”
The Chiefs have been holding their own against Eisenhower’s Jonas Price, Rogelio Mares and Alfonso Cuevas all season. They won the Nike Invite Division III meet in Oregon, so they’ve seen quality fields. Saturday will be a combination of leaning on experience and letting it all hang out, Cooper said.
“It’s an uphill start for about 200 yards. Physiologically, it’s difficult, but it is very physically demanding right from the start,” Cooper said. “It’s a mental course. You have to be very mentally engaged and mentally tough the entire time.
“There’s places to pass. But when it comes right down to it, if you think you can go, then go.”
With the all-out, uphill sprint at the start, everyone is jockeying for position and only so many fit when the course narrows and the field breaks up into different packs. The idea is to get out strong and make your way forward when the field breaks in the various groups as it spreads out.
That was one of the big lessons sophomore Carlie Gregg learned last year as a freshman. She’s back for another go with some race experience under her belt.
“I know more about the course and what to do. Last year, I got boxed in, because I started out too slow, because I didn’t know,” Gregg said. “So this year I’m going to start out faster and establish my spot. I’d like to hit the first mile marker in 6:20. It’s hard to stay at that pace, but to get out in 6:20 would put me in good position to start moving up when I can.”
For sophomores Camille Carpenter and Mikayla Cooper, it will be their first state race. They’ve run with elite racers at the Nike Invite earlier in the season, but this is the first chance to compete at the Washington 4A state level. They have different racing styles. Carpenter, who is in her first season of varsity cross country, is a front-runner. She was the top Moses Lake girl at the CBBN district meet, finishing ninth in the 48-runner field.
“You can’t run scared. You have to stay strong. There’s going to be a lot of people around and you can’t let them scare you out of how you want to race,” Carpenter said. “I’ve talked to Carlie a little bit because she was there last year, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too much information. You want to have a plan, but you can’t over-think it. I’m just going to go have fun and see if I can’t finish in the lower 19s (minutes).”
Cooper said she’d like to run the first mile in 6:40 and settle in.
“To tell you the truth, it’s just another race. You go out, run as hard as you can and have fun,” she said.
Other Columbia Basin qualifiers include:
2A meet: Bryn Heikes and Jane Kennedy, Quincy; Karen Billingsley, Ephrata. BOYS: Kolby Tune, Ephrata.
1A meet: Kay Lester, Abigail Delay, Abigail Wood, Sydney Gilbert, Amanda Justo-Victoriano, Sydney Burke and Isabel Quiroz, Royal. BOYS: Rudy Flores, Joaquin Meza, Royal.
1B/2B meet: Rose Melville, Lind-Ritzville/Sprague