With back-to-back premier events in the cross country world the next two weekends, different teams are using the big meets for different reasons.
For elite teams -- like the Kamiakin boys (ranked second in the state 3A) and girls (ranked third) -- it is a chance to pit themselves against the Northwest's best at Sunfair this Saturday at Franklin Park in Yakima and the Richland Invite the following weekend.
Likewise for the top individuals, with some of the best boys in the nation lining up for Kamiakin's Anthony Armstrong to challenge.
"I'm curious to see how we match up against some of the other 3A schools," said Kamiakin girls coach Shaun Suss, noting that the likes of Glacier Peak, Shadle Park, Camas and Prairie will be among those at Sunfair, and will be among those the Braves will see at state while trying to repeat and even improve on last year's fourth-place trophy.
"It's been kind of nice. We're not really keying on meets too much. We just want to go out there and run, run to the best of our ability and have fun," Suss added. "We're keeping it low-key. Once we get into regionals and state, that will change."
For other teams, like the Southridge boys and girls, it's a chance to see how far they have to go to catch up to the top teams ... and start to get an idea if a state berth is a possibility.
"Teamwise, we might be real good," said Southridge girls coach Dave Rockstrom. "We had a freshman (Emily Kump) run 19:40 (for 3 miles) at a tough course in Yakima and finish second in her race."
Southridge's freshmen -- Kump, Michaela McCune and Jamie Callahan -- have been a pleasant surprise and a nice complement to senior Rachel Dahl, who finished 19th at state last season and is running with the area's best.
"She'd never run before her sophomore year," Rockstrom said, noting that Dahl started out running a 5-kilometer course in 25 minutes, had cut 3 minutes off that by the end of her rookie season and ran an 18:38 at regionals last season.
But, Rockstrom noted, the Suns have a lot of improvement ahead if they are to become the school's first girls squad to advance out of a difficult regional.
"For us to do well, we have to have the three freshmen come through, and that's tough when you rely on people who don't have race experience at big meets," Rockstrom said.
Gaining that "big meet" experience is exactly what Hanford girls coach Sean Mars has in mind for the Falcons, who are finding out what it is like not having three-time area runner of the year Erin Hegarty (now at Baylor) out in front.
"We're running in a pack; we've had a couple of No. 1s," Mars said, noting that senior Jenna Berlin and sophomore Haley Porter have stepped out front. "We have a nice mix of veterans and new people. This is one of the years where we'll have a lot of people run varsity before we're done, and we'll see which seven are at the top at the end."
Hermiston head coach Mark Hodges will answer questions and discuss the Bulldogs' nonleague Friday game against host Moses Lake at the Hermiston Linebacker Club luncheon, scheduled to begin at noon Thursday at Desert Lanes Bowling Alley (1545 N. 1st St.).
Cost is $10 for club members, $12 for non-members. RSVP by 9 a.m. today at (541) 567-5215.