The Kamiakin Braves figure to play a key role in several story lines when the state cross country races take over Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco on Saturday.
Matt and Stephanie Rexus are key players for the Braves -- Matt is the longtime coach of the boys team expected to challenge five-time defending 3A champion North Central, Stephanie a senior and top runner for the girls team looking to repeat as state trophy winners.
But for a twist of fate, the father and daughter might never have gotten into running the first place.
"They were in a bind," Matt said, summing up how a rookie teacher who grew up playing basketball on the west side of the state and had one season of experience coaching jumpers on the track team took over the boys cross country team.
The position was open all summer in 1988 without any takers for a squad of seven kids -- just enough to fill out a varsity roster.
Matt stepped up ... and went 0-8 in the Big Nine that first season. But three years later, when the freshmen on that team were seniors, the Braves went 8-0. That after qualifying for state the previous season.
Some magical coaching secret? Nah, Matt said, just a penchant for numbers (in this case, times) and a lot of advice from the legendary likes of Mead coach Pat Tyson and Eisenhower's Phil English.
"I can't stand to do anything partway," Matt said. "I think my strength is to motivate kids with numbers. If you show them something with times, they've got to believe it."
Stephanie's involvement in running also came in roundabout fashion -- as a way to get out of soccer.
The family was tilting toward the pitch when Stephanie was nearing middle school, with older brother Tyler and younger Brendan playing. But soccer was not her gig, and running seemed the best alternative.
"My dad's the high school coach," she said, "so I might as well try. I found out I was good at it, so that was cool."
Seventh grade was her first big jump, starting the year running 8-minute miles and finishing at 5:40.
"I said, 'I'm going to just work really hard at this and be good at this,' " she said.
Stephanie's second big jump came between the cross country and track seasons last year. Already one of the better runners in the area -- she finished eighth at state last year, one spot behind junior teammate Michelle Fletcher -- she became one of the best with a shot at a top-six finish this weekend in what figures to be a stronger field from last year. Along the way, she picked up the school record for the 3,200 meters in track (11:12.99).
"Last winter after the cross country season was over, I didn't want to take a break," she said. "I trained for the Cable Bridge Run, did the 10K and trained straight through."
Kamiakin girls coach Shaun Suss -- he was a junior and senior jumper on the Braves track team when Matt was his coach -- said he sees a lot of similarities between father and daughter.
"Both of them are very laid back people but still driven," Suss said. "One day, they were wearing the same shirt -- that would mortify some kids, but Steph was, 'Hey, cool, we're wearing the same shirt.' They get along well."
It isn't always easy, though. Matt and Cecilia have five kids -- Jeremy, 11, and Johnathon, 8, are the youngest -- which is good practice for coaching cross country with all the running around. They all have varying interests, which means while Matt and Stephanie are at a meet, Cecilia may be at a basketball tournament.
Matt, now the distance coach on the track team, still has one more spring coaching Stephanie before father and daughter will -- athletically speaking -- go their separate ways.
"At regionals, I had a parent come up and ask me, who do I get more nervous for, the boys or my daughter," Matt said. "Definitely my daughter. I want my boys to do well, but blood comes first.
"It's stressful, but I've enjoyed it a lot, and I'm going to miss it. It's been fun being around her for four years and watching her. I'm proud of her."
For Stephanie, who figures to have a chance to run in college, it will mean the end of having her coach available 24/7.
"I can always ask for help for anything -- I don't have to worry about my self as much," she said. "College running, I'll have to rely more on myself."
Well, mom pipes up, there will be the coach.
Sure, but it won't be dad.