High School Sports

Richland's Mahoney, Jones on a fun run

They would stand out in almost any crowd, playful characters whose joking, laughing natures are seemingly always on display.

In the straight-faced, work-a-day world of cross country, Richland seniors Katie Mahoney and Maggie Jones are a uniquely matched set.

"They're free spirits and they like to have fun," said Bombers coach Jay Bartlett. "They like to be around each other, and it's helped them do what they've been able to do this year."

What Jones and Mahoney have done is establish themselves as two of the top runners in the area. Mahoney finished first or second in all three CBBN meets this season and has been in the top three in all seven of Richland's events, including last week's 4A district meet.

Jones most often is right behind, with five top-five finishes and a fourth at districts.

Between them, they have seven years of varsity running experience heading into Saturday's Eastern Washington 4A/3A regionals at Walla Walla Point Park in Wenatchee.

Jones and Mahoney are friends from way back, having grown up playing soccer together -- a sport each sacrificed in favor of running. And though their playfulness is always near the surface -- as captains, they lead the team through a warmup that resembles an interpretive dance routine filled with handstands and high kicks -- they take their running seriously.

"Running becomes part of you, you know. It's like who you are," Jones said.

"If I don't run," Mahoney added, "I feel like crap."

"Anymore, it's like eating," Jones finished. "There's eating, sleeping and running."

That's a strong statement from someone who just a few years ago thought running was something you did only for other sports.

"I didn't even know running was a sport," said Jones, who ran track for the first time as a freshman and wound up placing seventh at state in the 800 meters (Mahoney was 14th).

"I thought it was what you're supposed to do," she said of her impressive debut.

In her first big meet as a sophomore, she placed sixth at the Richland Invite, ahead of established runners like Hanford's Erin Hegarty and Pasco's Marisa Vander Malle.

Asked after that race if running cross country was better than playing JV soccer -- which she did as a freshman -- Jones' replied, "That's a strong, firm yes in caps. The cool people run cross country. X-C!"

Mahoney grew up with a love of running -- her dad ran marathons -- and she would wear her running clothes to elementary school on days they ran the mile.

As a freshman, she was one of the Bombers' top runners, placing sixth at district and 18th at regionals.

"You knew what you were going to get, race in and race out," Bartlett said. "This year she's taken that extra step. She's always been pretty good, but right now she's really good.

"Obviously having her and Maggie be able to run at the same level has helped both get better."

The Richland team also has gotten better. A young group behind Jones and Mahoney finished second at districts after finishing fourth in the league.

Senior Emily Hazen, herself a top runner who has had her last two seasons derailed by injuries, has recovered from a groin that kept her out of action until just two weeks ago.

However, the Bombers are something of a longshot to finish among the top three at regionals against a strong Spokane field to qualify for state for a sixth straight season.

"It would be so depressing -- our senior year not having the team get through would totally suck," Mahoney said.

Though they usually finish within a few seconds of each other, their individual goals for state are vastly different.

"Top 10 for sure," Mahoney pronounced.

"Katie," Jones said, "that's going to be difficult."

And then their playfulness took over.

"We'll try to run the whole race," Mahoney quipped.

"Keep our feet moving," Jones finished laughing.

They visited Eastern Washington together a couple weekends ago. Mahoney is set on running in college, and Jones is warming to the idea.

"At first, I was thinking a lot about intramurals," Jones said, "but after (visiting) Eastern, running in college would be pretty tight."