Updated: Sep 28, 2021
The 2020 high school cross country season was unlike anything we have ever witnessed. There were no state championships, district meets, or big invites to show who the best of the best were in Washington.
With the new season approaching in a blink of an eye, a sense of normalcy is on the horizon. After a short season of fast times and unexpected outcomes, this upcoming cross country season will be one of the most anticipated years in quite some time.
Here is your look at the top 1A individuals and teams on the boy's side to watch for in 2021.
Jamar Distel, Riverside
If there's one thing Jamar Distel had proven this past cross country and track season, it's he belongs with some of the most elite runners in the entire state. One-and-a-half years after a disappointing 13th place finish at the 1A state cross country meet his sophomore season, Distel is coming off an undefeated junior campaign running a new personal best 5k time of 15:12.3 and won both the Northeast A-League Championship and the 1A virtual state meet. Distel also had a great track season running three new personal best times, including a 4:12.47 in the 1,600 at the Tacoma High-Performance Meet and a 9:04.97 in the 3,200 at the Olympia 3,200.
Kelton Gagnon, Klahowya
Kelton Gagnon's rise to 1A stardom has been one in the making for three years. The Klahowya star won four races in his junior cross country season, including an Olympic League title, and then placed second overall in the virtual 1A state meet running a 5k personal best time of 15:58.9. But it was Gagnon's track season which stood out the most as he posted new personal best times in the 1,600 (4:20.50) and 3,200 (9::31.30), and won two more Olympic League titles in those events. Not to mention the fact Gagnon also threw the Javelin 143 feet, seven inches, all while placing sixth at the Olympic League Championships.
Joseph Blanshan, La Center
Joseph Blanshan ran away from the competition dominating the Trico 1A League his sophomore season in just four cross country races. Coming off an 11th place finish from the 1A state meet as a freshman, Blanshan showed signs of improvement running a new 5k personal best time of 16:14 and won his second consecutive District 4 title and his first Trico League title. Blanshan won six races during the track season and ran new personal best times in the 1,600 (4:32.4) and 3,200 (9:47.9).
Stephen Bleakley-Harris, Northwest
The numbers Stephen Bleakley-Harris put up as a sophomore were quite impressive given the times he was running back in 2019 in cross country and track. During cross country, Bleakly-Harris went undefeated in Emerald Sound Meets and consistently ranged from 16:20 to 16:50 for 5k races, with his best race coming in the virtual 1A state meet where he placed fifth overall in a personal best time of 16:22.9. As for the track season, Bleakley-Harris improved his 1,600 time by over 50 seconds running a time of 4:37.92 and ran the 3,200 for the first time this season in 10:01.57.
Hiroto Nasu, King's
With Nick LeBar transferring to Glacier Peak this last school year, the King's Knights needed someone to step up to fill his role. The team found that runner in Hiroto Nasu. Nasu enters his senior season coming off his best year of running with a new 5k personal best time of 16:39.5, and a seventh-place finish in the virtual 1A state meet, 48 placings higher than his state finish in 2019. Nasu also ran track for the first time this spring and came away with respectable times of 2:02.76 in the 800 and 4:35.30 in the 1,600.
Reid Headrick, Medical Lake
The times didn't show in 2021, but Reid Headrick will be a well-respected runner his junior season. Looking back at his freshman cross country season, Headrick ran a 5k personal best time of 16:30.3 and placed 25th at the 1A state meet as part of Medical Lake's third-place team. This spring, Headrick did manage to run under 17 minutes and was 17th in the virtual state meet for the second-place Cardinals, so overall, another solid season. The potential is there; he just needs bigger racing opportunities this fall.
Owen Bard, Cascade (Leavenworth)
Running hasn't always been perfect for Owen Bard the last two years since placing fourth at the 1A state cross country meet his freshman season, but that doesn't change the fact this athlete still has the potential to be a top-five runner this season. Bard was 16th in the virtual 1A state meet this spring running a 5k season-best time of 17:06.9 and was Cascade's second runner behind teammate and Kodiak great Landon Davies for their third-place team finish. With a personal best time of 16:25.6, the talent is still there for Bard. He just needs to gain that confidence again.
Teams to Watch for:
- 2018 was a tough finish for Cascade, finishing second as a team at state behind Lakeside after a tie went in the Eagles' favor. Then in 2019, the Kodiaks missed the podium by one spot. The difference between this year's team and those in the past; experience. Experience will play a big role for this Cascade team, led by Owen Bard and Derek Richardson, and it's going to help them in the long run when they go after their first-ever state title.
- King's will be in good hands this fall with all seven of their varsity runners returning. However, only two of those returning athletes have any state experience in Hiroto Nasu and Lucas Needham. It's not necessarily a cause for concern because the Knights have a solid five under 18:35 for a 5k this past spring. Since King's last won a state title, it's been two decades, but this could be a solid group who could take down Cascade.
Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls)
- Lakeside's reputation as a 1A powerhouse has grown over the last decade, winning four state titles and has helped put the Northeast A-League on the map as one of the toughest conferences in the state. But the first time in a few years, Lakeside will only have one runner with any state experience in Hayden Blank. The two-time defending state champions will look much different than previous teams but will be junior loaded.
- We've seen some good individuals come out of Bellevue Christian in years past, like Jared Donnel, but there hasn't been a good enough team to make the state meet, let alone be a potential top-four team. But with six runners returning, including Will Wetter and their lone returning state competitor Caden Pua, the Vikings could make history this fall, bringing home what would be their first-ever cross country state trophy in program history.