Watch out for some super sophomore boys to burst away from the Mid-Columbia Conference pack during the 2016 cross country season.
Last year as a freshman, Richland’s Riley Moore was 10th in the Class 4A state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco. He clocked a time of 15 minutes, 40.9 seconds in the 5,000-meter race.
Moore and fourth-place Zak Kindl (15:28.8), now a senior at Lewis & Clark, are the only returners from last year’s top 10. But Richland coach Jay Bartlett says Moore isn’t thinking of himself as a front-runner for this year’s state championship.
“He’s just trying to keep his nose to the grindstone and keep working,” Bartlett said.
Moore and the Bombers open the season Saturday at the Highlander Invitational in Spokane. Bartlett says the Fort Steilacoom Invitational on Sept. 17 in Lakewood “will give us a good feel for where he’s at.”
Bartlett also notes Ryan Child of Kamiakin, Johan Correa of Kennewick and Caleb Olson of Hanford as other 10th-graders to watch this year.
Correa was a qualifier for the USATF National Junior Olympic cross country and track championships. Olson and Child went 1-2 in the 2-mile Hanford Jamboree on Sept. 2, and they each broke 10 minutes in the 3,200 during track season.
“Being a sophomore is pretty tough, having to compete with seniors, but as they get older and mature, I see a really bright future for those guys,” Bartlett said.
KAMIAKIN STILL STRONG
The Kamiakin boys finished behind North Central again at last year’s 3A state meet. The Indians are the 10-time defending champions, and the Braves have been the runners-up the past four years.
The Braves have graduated their top two state finishers from 2015 — Phillip Fishburn (fifth) and Travis Crumpler (15th) — but they remain well stocked. They return Jonah Franco (16th), Child (54th), Traven Bills (76th), Kyler Lee (94th) and Preston Glade (109th).
Kamiakin and North Central will be among the teams at the Tracy Walters Invite on Saturday in Spokane. In the first Washington state coaches poll of the year, the Indians are ranked No. 1 and the Braves second in 3A.
“We go up there to run against those guys because they are where we want to be,” Kamiakin boys coach Matt Rexus said.
But one of these teams might not be going to state this year. Hanford’s move up to 4A leaves seven 3A squads — three from the MCC and four from the Greater Spokane League — fighting for one state berth. A proposal for gaining another berth has been submitted to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
Meanwhile, sophomore McKinzi Teeples (11th at state last year) leads a Kamiakin girls contingent that is coming off a seventh-place state finish. The fifth-ranked Braves also won last year’s 3A MCC district and regional titles.
Lindsey Lowe (24th at state) and Kaylee Sanchez (101st) have graduated, but the Braves still have Mirannda Shulman (38th), Brooke Moon (51st), Faith Fishburn (99th) and Julia Almaguer (107th).
Kamiakin girls coach Shaun Suss has added another potential weapon to the mix: Jessica Dunlap, who was the area’s second-fastest eighth-grade girl last year.
Suss expects the Braves will tussle with Hanford for the MCC title. Beyond league, “Mt. Spokane is always tough from the GSL,” he said. “We are hearing rumors that the North Central girls are much improved. They are supposed to have a great group of freshman girls coming in.”
OTHERS TO WATCH
The Hanford girls return every runner who contributed to last year’s 10th-place finish at the 3A state meet.
Hailey Cleavenger (26th at state last year) kicked off her senior season last week by winning the Hanford Jamboree girls race. In 2015, Cleavenger shared MCC runner of the year honors with Lowe and won the 3A district title.
The Falcons also welcome back Grace Arnold (60th), Amber Skouson (70th), Megan Wright (86th), Kathryn Bushman (91st), Rachel Schmidt (117th) and Kristin Pilgrim (119th).
“We have 32 girls out, by far the largest turnout we have ever had,” Hanford coach Sean Mars said. “We are fortunate to have a lot of experienced veterans to help the new young runners learn how to train smart and race smart.”
Other 4A girls who are expected to have strong seasons include Walla Walla senior and defending district champion Erika Leinweber (34th at state last year) and Richland junior Katie Andrus (76th). Chiawana’s Samantha Schmidt was second at districts last year, but the junior has suffered a foot fracture. Coach Tim Harrington said the Riverhawks hope to have her back before October.
On the boys side, keep an eye on Wa-Hi senior Alex Iben, who took 70th at state in 2015.
College Place’s Kenneth Rooks won the 1B-2B boys state title last year as a sophomore. His team moves up to the 1A ranks this season.
“We are looking forward to the SCAC competition, but we’ll miss the competition we faced last year in 2B,” College Place coach Darin Durand said. “The last two seasons, Kenneth has run against many of the same distance runners during track season. He formed some good friendships and rivalries during those seasons.
“One thing I’m not looking forward to with SCAC competition is the travel distance. We were pretty spoiled last year with more local competitions.”
College Place will have to contend with Royal, whose boys are ranked eighth and girls seventh in the 1A coaches polls. Connell was just outside the top 10 in the 1A boys poll.
Waitsburg’s Emily Adams was fourth in last year’s 1B-2B girls state race as a junior. Also look out for the Tri-Cities Prep boys, who are No. 8 in the 1B-2B coaches poll.