It is somewhat ironic that the first event of the cross country postseason holds little value other than a chance to stretch the legs for a few runners who have been stuck on the sideline by injury or illness.
The Mid-Columbia Conference will holds its Class 3A and 4A races today at Leslie Groves Park in Richland, starting with the 3A girls race at 3 p.m.
All the teams on hand are coming off last week’s MCC league race, so there is no new competition. Also, everyone advances to next week’s regional races in Spokane, which means most if not all teams will train through this week to be at their best for regionals or state in the weeks ahead.
It’s those factors that have coaches and athletic directors pondering the possibility of making this the last district race barring another shakeup of the league format.
The biggest bonus for the eight MCC teams — aside from picking up a district title — is bringing back previously injured athletes in a stress-free race.
The Kamiakin girls figure to get Megan Beauchene back after the senior missed three weeks of racing dealing with physical ailments. Braves girls coach Shaun Suss said Beauchene, who finished fourth at state last year, has been running in practice but the team is playing it safe with her.
The Braves, ranked second in the state in 3A, figure to nab one of the three team berths to state out of next week’s regional, as do the Kamiakin boys.
Life will be much harder on the 4A level, with only the top two teams and individuals in the top 10 advancing to state.
“It is a bear,” said Richland coach Jay Bartlett, who is hoping to get a look of a couple of injured runners of his own today.
Senior Dennis McDuffie is expected to be back with the boys after missing most of the season with a stress fracture. With him, the boys team may have a shot to pass up the likes of Lewis & Clark to finish second behind third-ranked Central Valley.
Bartlett had more of a wait-and-see attitude about Kinzie Icayan returning to the girls team after the senior turned up in a walking boot at the Richland Invite two weeks ago.
Without Icayan, the Bombers may be hard pressed to get back to state as a team with Central Valley, Gonzaga Prep and an improving Walla Walla squad making for a crowded field.
“Walla Walla is looking strong,” Suss said of the Blue Devils, who swept last week’s MCC league race.
All other Washington teams in the area will wait for the following week to open their march toward state, with 1A SCAC and 2A CWAC teams running in regionals at Apple Ridge in Cowiche, and the 2B/1B teams racing at Plante’s Ferry in Spokane.
In Oregon, Hermiston has a big race Friday with the district race in Pendleton winnowing the field for the state meet Nov. 2 in North Eugene.