The matchups provided by Saturday's 42nd annual Richland Invite are undeniably intriguing to any fan of running.
Will the seasonlong CBBN battle between the league's top four runners spill over and dominate the invite? Or will a Spokane runner crash the party?
Speaking of Spokane, North Central is shooting for its fourth straight title and the sixth in a row by a school from the Lilac City. But the four-time defending 3A state champion will have its hands full with a field that includes 4A No. 1 Eisenhower and 3A No. 3 Kamiakin, No. 4 Seattle Prep and No. 5 Mount Spokane.
Finally, will Hanford's Erin Hegarty and North Central's Katie Knight stage another terrific dual, much as they did last season when Knight took the lead in the last 100 meters and won by 4 seconds?
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Indeed, the 34-team invite should provide plenty of plot twists at Carmichael Middle School.
Hegarty, who has three top-10 finishes at Richland, posted the fifth fastest time ever run at Carmichael last year but still came up short of a title. Knight provides a huge hurdle for the Hanford senior as well as the rest of the field, coming off a win at the Bob Firman Invite in Boise two weeks ago. The North Central sophomore finished second at state last year and likely will make a run at the meet and course record of 17:37, 19 seconds under her winning time last season.
Other contenders for top finishes on the girls side are Eisenhower's Berenice Penaloza and Mayra Chavez, Richland's Katie Mahoney and Maggie Jones, Kamiakin's Stephanie Rexus and Michelle Fletcher, Walla Walla's Rachel Nelson, Davis' Kaitlin Kaluzny and Wapato's Sammi Blodgett.
The top-ranked Ike girls will be tough to stop, with Kamiakin (ranked third in 3A) a likely challenger.
On the boys side, NC and Ike are both ranked nationally and are rated first and second in the Northwest, with Kamiakin, Mount Spokane and Seattle Prep on the bubble.
Kamiakin's Anthony Armstrong is the top returner, finishing fourth last season, two spots ahead of Hunter Johnson of Mount Spokane.
Armstrong, Walla Walla's Aaron Nelson, Wenatchee's Jacob Smith and Ike's Timothy Cummings should be among the leaders along with Johnson and NC's Casey Adams in a race expected be close right to the finish.