The Kamiakin boys cross country team doesn’t have a full arsenal of weapons like it did last year, but the Braves still are the ones everyone is chasing on the course.
Senior Phillip Fishburn leads the pack in the Mid-Columbia Conference, with Hanford senior Porter McMichael, Richland freshman Riley Moore and Walla Walla junior Alex Iben right on his tail.
“We graduated four really good kids,” said Kamiakin coach Matt Rexus, who is in his 28th season with the Braves. “I’m very proud of the younger kids coming in, but losing Braxton (Gutierrez, broken foot) has been devastating.”
Fishburn finished 14th at the Class 3A state meet last year, moving up 10 places from his sophomore year and taking 36 seconds off his time.
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“Phillip has been doing a great job,” Rexus said. “In middle school, he was in the middle to the back of the races. He was one of those kids who didn’t know what he was doing, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Fishburn finished third at the Tracy Walters Invitational on Sept. 12 in Spokane, then ran to a third-place finish at the Sundodger Invitational a week later in Seattle, leading the Braves to the team title.
In the first MCC race of the fall, Fishburn led the Braves to the team title with a first-place showing, while the next four Kamiakin runners were in the top nine.
While Fishburn clearly is the top runner for the Braves, senior Travis Crumpler, juniors James Ferraro and Traven Bills, sophomore Jonah Franco and freshman Ryan Child could all be the team’s No. 2 runner on any give day.
“We are stronger that way,” Rexus said. “When James is healthy, he is right up there for for us. We just want to make progress during the season and by the end we hope to be where we want to be.”
Ferraro is a transfer from San Diego and has been battling a minor injury. He did not run in the MCC meet.
The Braves hope to be chasing North Central for a state title in November. The Indians have won the past nine state titles.
Kamiakin has finished second the past three years to NC, was third in 2011 and fifth in 2010.
“To be honest, they have made our kids better, and hopefully they would say the same about us,” Rexus said.
The Braves will be tested Saturday at Sunfair in Yakima. They have won the title the past two years, but 4A Tahoma, which is ranked 15th in the nation (Dyestat Rankings), will be there to try and knock them off. The Bears finished 10th in the team standings at the Bob Firman Invitational on Sept. 26 in Boise, with Graeme Schroeder leading the charge with a 20th-place finish in 15:56.73.
“They are loaded,” Rexus said. “We are (ranked) in the 60s. When you think about 37,000 high schools, that is pretty good.”
A SUN SHINES AGAIN: The Southridge boys program, which has had its ups and down the past few years, is on the upswing after former Suns standout Andrew Gonzales returned to coach his former team.
“We are super excited to have him back,” Southridge athletic director Tim Wood said. “I know the boys are getting after it.”
Gonzales, a 2009 Southridge graduate, was fourth at state his junior (3A) and senior (4A) years. He went on to have a distinguished career at Washington State.
James Chan was the top Suns finisher (11th) at the MCC meet, followed by Keanu Daos (17th) and Lance Stites (27th).
“He has them working really hard,” Rexus said of Gonzales. “I have no doubt shortly they will be right up there.”
MIGHTY VIKING: Umatilla senior Fabian Cardenas is in just his third year of running cross country, but you would never know it by the dominant presence he has on the course.
He won the Oregon 3A/2A/1A title last fall and was ninth as a sophomore.
“He’s a great kid,” Umatilla coach Josh Ego said. “He’s fun to cheer for. He didn’t start running until his freshman year. I was doing winter training for track, and one of his buddies talked him into coming out. He was out there two or three days a week, but once the season started, he was dedicated. I didn’t have any idea that one day he would become as good as he was.”
On Sept. 26, he finished 10th at Nike Portland in the Danner Championship race, turning in a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 31.18 seconds over the 5-kilometer course.
On Saturday, Cardenas will run in the Pasco Bulldog Invite.
“He will have some competition,” Ego said of the race that will feature runners from Richland, Chiawana and Kennewick.
Richland’s Lindsey Bradley, last year’s 4A state champion, now is running for the University of Washington, leaving the field wide open in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
Kamiakin won the team title at the opening MCC race last week, but it was Walla Walla’s Erika Leinweber who led the pack with a time of 19:34.90, nearly 16 seconds in front of Hanford’s Hailey Cleavenger.
Lindsey Lowe and McKinzi Teeples finished fourth and fifth for the Braves, who were ninth in the team race at the 3A state meet last year.
“She’s quite a runner,” Hanford coach Sean Mars said of Leinweber. “Kamiakin has the edge on the team side and they have an experienced gal (Lindsey Lowe) who runs well. Southridge has a good gal in Brooke Hansen, who ran really well last season. Without Lindsey (Bradley) there, it makes it pretty interesting. There is good competition to be had every week.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate have good runners. Hailey has really improved. She knows how to work hard and is coachable. She went to state her freshman year and last year, and we had a freshman (Amber Skouson) who was the district champion last year.”
The Falcons will take their show on the road Saturday to Wenatchee, skipping Sunfair and the Pasco race.
“It’s a nice course and it lets us race against some different people,” said Mars, in his 24th year with the Falcons.