A month into the season, and Kamiakin's Austin Oser was at a crux in his senior campaign.
Three weeks of illness had seemingly snuffed out what started as a promising year, and a 15th-place finish in a league meet had pretty well killed off what confidence he had left.
So his coach made the unusual move of sending his top senior to run with the JV team at the Pasco Big Cross while the rest of the varsity got an impromptu day off thanks to smoke postponing Sunfair.
Turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
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Oser won that race against some strong small-school talent. And it sparked a terrific final month-and-a-half that culminated in 10th place at the Class 3A state meet, 13th a week later at Nike Northwest Regionals and selection as the Tri-City Herald's all-area cross country boys runner of the year.
"It's been unreal, that's for sure," said Oser, who gave all the credit to his teammates after the Braves finished runner-up to North Central of Spokane at state and regionals and will run at nationals Dec. 1.
"My team really helped me out. My confidence was gone. I was running to run. My competitive edge was gone. But after (coach Matt) Rexus had me run at Pasco, that got my confidence up."
Richland sophomore Lindsey Bradley had no such problems with her confidence, just the timing of a bout of flu.
After a stellar season that included finishing ninth at Nike Pre-Nationals, fourth at the Richland Invite and wins at districts and regionals, Bradley was out of commission the three days leading up to state and probably wouldn't have run ... had it been any meet but state.
"I really, really, really wanted to run, obviously, but I didn't feel like moving," said Bradley, who managed to finish 24th and lead the Bombers to a fourth-place team finish.
"I'm really happy with my season this year," she said. "I think a lot of my races looked a lot better than last year. I PR'd (personal record) a lot of races. State was a disappointment, but I couldn't control that."
Bradley seemed headed for a potential top-five finish at state after a dominating regional race.
Though just a sophomore, Bradley is a veteran at endurance sports and loves competing in triathlons.
"I remember running the mile in second grade; I've always loved running," she said. "I did a triathlon when I was 9 -- that's kind of when I started the running and endurance."
Her coach is thrilled to take full advantage of that experience.
"She's done everything we asked of her from Day 1," said Richland coach Jay Bartlett. "I don't know how good she can be, but as long as she continues to progress, the sky is the limit."
Bradley is joined on the first team by junior teammate Lauren Perry, both repeat first-team selections. Two girls from Kamiakin's state runner-up team also made first team: senior Michelle Fletcher, making her third appearance, and junior Megan Beauchene.
Rounding out the squad are Hermiston senior Maggie Coleman (repeat selection) and first-time sophomore choices Emily Kump of Southridge and Courtney Cox of Walla Walla.
Kamiakin's Shaun Suss is a three-peat choice for top girls coach, having guided the Braves to three consecutive state trophies.
Oser has seen Kamiakin's program rise from finishing a few points away from going to state, to finishing a few points away from a trophy, to finishing just a step below state champion.
"We just carry each other," he said of the Braves, who finished with seven runners earning at least honorable mention all-area. "For us to go to nationals, that's a team thing. We all stepped up. It's the closest team I've been on throughout my four years of high school."
Oser is accompanied on the first team by junior Ahmed Ibrahim. The Braves have four more on the second team and one honorable mention.
While Oser and Ibrahim are first-time first-teamers, a trio from Hermiston have familiar faces: senior Eduardo Juarez (three-timer) and junior repeaters Alejandro Cisneros and Jose Macias.
Walla Walla senior Sean Newcomb and Richland junior Michael Williams earned their first spots on the team, as did Tri-Cities Prep coach Scott Larson, who guided the Jaguars to their third consecutive Class 2B/1B state title.
"The guys really responded well," said Larson, who replaced three of his top four runners but still saw his team post its fastest overall times at state.
"By far (the best day)," he said. "I had an idea (that they would win) where they ran, but they surprised me.
"I was a fan."
Runner of the year: Austin Oser, Kamiakin. Coach of the year: Scott Larson, Tri-Cities Prep.
First team: Austin Oser, sr., Kamiakin; Alejandro Cisneros, jr., Hermiston; Eduardo Juarez, sr., Hermiston; Jose Macias, jr., Hermiston; Sean Newcomb, sr., Walla Walla; Ahmed Ibrahim, jr., Kamiakin; Michael Williams, jr., Richland.
Second team: Ben Wolpert, jr., Walla Walla; Andrew Snyder, so., Kamiakin; Garrett Kraal, jr., Kamiakin; Christian Rodriguez, sr., Kamiakin; Jeevan Philip, sr., Hanford; Skyler Larson, sr., Tri-Cities Prep; Keegan McCormick, jr., Kamiakin.
Honorable mention: Joseph Schuldheisz, sr., Kennewick; Ryan Francis, sr., Richland; Bradley Buttars, sr., Prosser; Cameron Glade, so., Kamiakin; Seth Deal, sr., Waitsburg-Prescott.
Runner of the year: Lindsey Bradley, Richland. Coach of the year: Shaun Suss, Kamiakin.
First team: Lindsey Bradley, so., Richland; Megan Beauchene, jr., Kamiakin; Lauren Perry, jr., Richland; Maggie Coleman, sr., Hermiston; Michelle Fletcher, sr., Kamiakin; Courtney Cox, so., Walla Walla; Emily Kump, so, Southridge.
Second team: Katie Marwick, jr., Hermiston; Leslie Olsen, sr., Southridge; Sidney Bullock, so., Richland; Kinzie Icayan, jr., Richland; Hannah Hampson, jr., Walla Walla; Rachel Nelson, sr., Walla Walla; Amy Pfaff, sr., Hanford.
Honorable mention: Emily Moon, so., Kamiakin; Catherine Feistner, jr., Walla Walla; Brittany Brooks, jr., Kamiakin; Samantha Bagley, jr., Richland; Kolby Childers, sr., Prosser.