Preview for the 2021 2A, 1A, and 1B/2B State Cross Country Championships.
The wait is finally over.
Nearly two years to the exact date, the WIAA State Cross Country Championships makes its long-awaited return to the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco on Saturday, Nov. 6.
Here is your preview for this week's 4A and 3A races and the individuals and teams to watch for.
2A Boys - 12:30 p.m.
Individuals to watch: Cooper Quigley, Selah; Daniel Barna, Columbia River; Hale Behan, Sammamish; Samuel Grice, Washougal; Will Giesen, Bellingham
Heading into the fall, the hype was surrounding Sehome's Zack Munson. Because of his absence this year, that hype has then shifted over to Selah's Cooper Quigley as the frontrunner for the individual crown.
The recent Arizona commit goes into the state meet with the sixth fastest 5k time in the state at 15:06.1 and is ahead of the second-fastest 2A runner by over 25 seconds. The last time Quigley ran in Pasco, he was only a sophomore and placed sixth overall in a competitive 2A field featuring four other current division one runners in the top eight.
Even though no other 2A runner has come close to running the times Quigley has this season, athletes like Daniel Barna and Hale Behan aren't shying away from running with the 2A's best. Barna is having his best year running for Columbia River, while Behan is getting back into the mix as a top-three runner. Both could challenge Quigley for a good 1.5-2 miles, but it will be Quigley's speed that will pull him to victory in the end.
The Runner WA pick: Cooper Quigley
Teams to watch: Squalicum, Bellingham, Sehome, Port Angeles
Look up the word "dynasty," and the definition would be Sehome. The Sehome boy's program ran an entire decade -- nine state championships and one runner-up finish. However, things are much different this year for a team that's been on top of the 2A mountain, as their local rivals have finally caught up to them to contend for the team title.
Squalicum has been the biggest of surprises this season. With a 2A best five-runner spread of 33.9 seconds, the Storm have one of the top pack running teams in the state and currently sit as the frontrunners for the team title. This program was near the bottom of the Northwest Conference the last couple of seasons and now has put itself in a spot where it could win its first-ever state title in program history.
Bellingham seems to always be in the mix for a state trophy, and nothing has changed this season with another solid squad they have returning to Pasco. Giesen is a top 10 individual runner, and Paden Loveland and Quinn Hartsoch are starting to come around as solid No. two and three runners. The Bayhawks were second behind Squalicum at Districts by 34 points but beat them at the NWC Championships the week before.
The Runner WA pick: Squalicum over Bellingham
2A Girls - 11:00 a.m.
Individuals to watch: Jessica Frydenlund, Anacortes; Kate Laurent, Ellensburg; Logan Hofstee, East Valley (Spokane); Elle Thomas, Washougal; Alauna Carstens, Shelton
It was the state match-up we never got to see last spring -- Anacortes' Jessica Frydenlund defeating Ellensburg's Kate Laurent for the 2A virtual state title. Nearly seven months later, we will get to see an actual race between the two star-studded athletes in Pasco.
You have to go back to the 2019 state meet when the last time these athletes ran against each other. Laurent finished fourth overall in her second state appearance for the 2019 state champion Bulldogs, and Frydenlund made her state debut, placing 41st. Two different runners then, but now are evenly matched with each other in 2021.
The only race we can compare the two was at the Nike Hole in the Wall Invite. Frydenlund ran away from the competition en route to winning the gold race, and Laurent finished seventh in a stacked elite field. Had they both run in the same race, who knows what the outcome could have been. Laurent did come away with the better time, but Frydenlund had the best performance from start to finish to beat her competition.
Two stars in the making in East Valley's (Spokane) Logan Hofstee and Washougal's Elle Thomas are set to make their Pasco racing debuts, coming in with two of the fastest sophomore times in the state. Shelton's Alauna Carstens, a finalist for Most Improved, is racing in her first state meet since the 2019 season. These three could make things interesting for the top eight finishers.
The Runner WA pick: Jessica Frydenlund
Teams to watch: Anacortes, Ellensburg, Sehome, Fort Vancouver
There's a similar story to the individual race when you look at the team race. Anacortes were the ones who "dethroned" Ellensburg in the spring from repeating as state champions. In the eyes of the WIAA, however, the Bulldogs remain the true defending state champions on paper.
Ellensburg is a much different team than the 2019 squad, as Laurent is the only returning runner from their state title run. While the Bulldogs rank third in the 2A hypothetical meet, a lot of the success has solely been from Laurent, whose 5k time is nearly 2.5 minutes faster than her next closest teammate.
Anacortes returned five of their seven virtual state participants. Their entire varsity team has improved this season, including their middle pack runners in Casey Lemrick, Carolyn Chambers, Ally Cutter, Caitlin Brar, and Abagail Goodwin. They have an impressive five-runner spread of 25 seconds, establishing the Seahawks as the team with the best depth in 2A.
Other than Ellensburg, you look at teams like Sehome who can give Anacortes some fits. This last Saturday, Anacortes was only able to beat Sehome by three points for the district title. Upfront, it was a close race as each team had four runners finish in the top 10, and the Mariners could get more personal best runs. Perhaps Sehome is peaking at the right time.
The Runner WA pick: Anacortes over Ellensburg
1A Boys - 12:00 p.m.
Individuals to watch: Jamar Distel, Riverside; Kelton Gagnon, Klahowya; Joseph Blanshan, La Center; Stephen Bleakley-Harris, Northwest; Sam Soto, Seton Catholic
There is no disrespect to those competing in the 1A boy's race, but this will be a race for second place. I think we can all agree Riverside's Jamar Distel will do his thing and win this with a sub-15-minute performance. Kelton Gagnon and Joseph Blanshan; enjoy the first half mile running with Distel and then hanging on for dear life.
In all seriousness, I think there could be something special brewing from Distel on Saturday. For two years, this young man has been bitten by the injury bug and hasn't been able to prove his worth. This year, he's finally healthy, running like an elite-level runner, and is on the cusp of putting together a performance that would solidify his legacy as one of the best to ever lace them up in Washington.
As for the other athletes, Gagnon looks to finish his much-improved running career with another second-place finish in a state meet --- this time for the real deal in Pasco. Blanshan will be racing in his first state meet since his freshman year when he finished 11th. Two years later, he's become one of the top small-school runners in the state and will be an early favorite to win next year's 1A crown.
The Runner WA pick: Jamar Distel
Teams to watch: Lakeside (NMF), College Place, King's, Overlake
Can Lakeside make it three years in a row? The Eagles were able to hold off a good Klahowya team in 2019 to repeat as state champs, and this year they'll have another test in the College Place Hawks.
Between both teams, they each have two runners ranked within the top 16 as individuals. Hayden Blank and Colby Splichal for Lakeside could make their way up to higher placings than what their 5k times are ranked at this point. The same could be argued for Jio Herrera and Johsua Courtney of College Place. The top two runners from each team could make a difference in team scoring.
Third through fourth place should be a good team race between conference foes King's and Overlake. The Owls managed to pull off a district title win over King's at South Whidbey after finishing 44 points behind the Knights at the Emerald Sound Conference Championships the week before. Medical Lake will be in the mix based on historical presence at the state meet and how well they run in Pasco.
The Runner WA pick: College Place over Lakeside (NMF)
1A Girls - 10:30 a.m.
Individuals to watch: Alexis Leone, Seton Catholic; Kayla Aalpoel, Meridian; Lara Carrion, Seton Catholic; Matise Mulch, Lakeside (Spokane); Aliyah Yearian, Port Townsend (East Jefferson)
You've heard of Pre-Nationals at the collegiate level; well, how about Pre-States? That's what we got at South Whidbey High School at the District 1-4 Championships. Four of the top five girls to watch at 1A state all competed in the same qualifying meet.
Still, this race could be a lot closer in Pasco than people think. Seton Catholic's Alexis Leone managed to pull away from Meridian's Kayla Aalpoel to win the district title by 17 seconds, but Leone has never raced the course at state before, whereas Aalpoel has. Familiarity does play some role in how one runs a course, and I would pick an experienced state runner like Aalpoel to take advantage of that going into Saturday.
Lara Carrion, a teammate of Leone, has had her fair share of success in Pasco over the years. Her most recent race was in 2019, when she placed third overall as a sophomore behind two future Pac-12 runners in Colville's Alaina Stone-Boggs and King's Namoi Smith. During the COVID season, Carrion led the Seton Catholic girls to the state team title, winning the individual title. She hasn't quite raced the times she did last spring, but expect a great final high school race from her.
The Runner WA pick: Kayla Aalpoel
Teams to watch: Seton Catholic, Medical Lake, La Center, King's
Seton Catholic had the second-best team in Washington behind the Tahoma girls at the beginning of the season. There were big expectations for a group that just won the 1A Virtual State Championships and had returned their top five runners. They may not have lived up to those expectations to be one of the best overall teams in the state, but they have done enough to remain the heavy favorites going into this weekend to take home the 1A crown.
The race for second should feature teams like Medical Lake, La Center, and King's. Historically, King's has had its fair share of success over the years at state, but a team like Medical Lake is having a season to remember. The Cardinals could potentially do something, I believe, based on WIAA records, has never happened in program history --- bring home a state trophy. For La Center, perhaps they could match their best team finish at second place for the fourth time in their program's history.
The Runner WA pick: Seton Catholic over King's
1B/2B Boys - 11:30 a.m.
Individuals to watch: Ben Graham, NW Christian (Colbert); Daniel Quintana, Ilwaco; Cole Foster, Chewelah; Jaeger Jacobsen, Davenport; Dexter Delaney, Liberty Bell
This is a tricky race to choose from because there are a ton of mysteries for this group of runners.
For starter, Ilwaco's Daniel Quintana, the defending champion, hasn't come close to running the times he did as a sophomore when he won it all. This runner was a rising star in 2019 and now sits in 15th for 1B/2B runners based on 5k times this season. Perhaps he is saving something up for Pasco, but I don't know what to make of his senior year racing.
Then there's NW Christian's (Colbert) Ben Graham, who ranks No. 1 in 1B/2B state times. He seems to be one of the favorites to win, right? His last two weekends of racing have been question marks as he didn't come close to winning his league and district championships. Maybe like Quintana, Graham may also be saving something big for Pasco.
And to wrap it up, you got runners like Chewelah's Cole Foster and Davenport's Jaeger Jacobsen. These two always go back and forth with each other in meets. There are days where Foster looks like the better runner, and other days it's Jacobsen instead. You might as well flip a coin to pick who wins.
The Runner WA pick: Ben Graham
Teams to watch: Pope John Paul II, St. George's, Liberty Bell, Chewelah
In the team race, there's a better idea of what's expected from each school. Pope John Paul II has become the new darlings of the small schools, and they got another solid crew going to Pasco led by Trevor Dugo and Luke Christiansen -- two runners who were a part of the Eagles' second-place state team back in 2019. Since they started their program a few years ago, PJP2 has continued to produce teams with depth and talent. This year's squad may not be as good without Kobe Deutscher, but it's good enough for them to take home this years' title.
I also like the St. George's team. When you have a varsity team made up of five freshmen, two of which are their No. 1 and 2 runners, and you have the Dragons' success this season, the future is as bright as ever for this team—also, no seniors. Everyone is back next season.
The Runner WA pick: Pope John Paul II over St. George's
1B/2B Girls - 10:00 a.m.
Individuals to watch: Chloe Overberg, Asotin; Josie McLaughlin, St. George's; Suzie Johnson, Cedar Tree Classical Christian; Madison Ingram, NW Christian (Lacey); Clare Kondrat, Pope John Paul II
It was hard to believe only three years ago was the last time Asotin's Chloe Overberg raced in Pasco. She was only a freshman, placed fifth overall, and got her high school career started.
Since then, it's been a heck of a rollercoaster for Overberg as she didn't race at all her sophomore year, and then a regular cross country season was taken away from her junior year. But she will be back on the start line this Saturday in the hope of not only chasing a state title but greatness as well. If anyone could take down Gabby Martin's 1B/2B course record, it's Overberg.
New legacies are also starting up in Pasco as St. George's Josie McLaughlin and NW Christian's (Lacey) Madison Ingram begin their state journeys. The two freshmen phenoms had great first-year seasons for their respective schools and will now look to close out the campaign with some top-five state finishes.
The Runner WA pick: Chloe Overberg
Teams to watch: Pope John Paul II, St. George's, Liberty Bell, Garfield-Palouse
As I specified in the boy's preview, the PJP2 program has become a fan favorite in the world of small schools, more so on the girl's side. When the Eagles were able to pull the upset in 2019 over the three-time champions in Liberty Bell, that's when people began to turn their heads. To say the girl's program is a dynasty now is a bit premature, but if they can win the whole thing for the third year in a row, then maybe the title is a bit more appropriate.
The Runner WA pick: Pope John Paul II over St. George's
For more information on the 2021 State Cross Country Championships, visit www.wiaa.com.