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 3A individuals and teams on the boy's side to watch for in 2021.
Will Schneider, Bishop Blanchet
Since his seventh-place finish as a freshman at the 2019 3A state cross country meet, Will Schneider has excelled in his running career for Bishop Blanchet. As a sophomore, Schneider went undefeated in Metro League cross country races, completing the season with a Metro League individual and team title, and ran a personal best 5k time of 15:17.2. During track, Schneider was recognized on the national stage as a top 10 runner in the 1,600 and the 3,200 for sophomores posting personal best times of 4:11.19 and 9:03.45 and won two more Metro League titles in the 800 (1:56.45 PR) and 1,600 and finished second in the 3,200. Even with one year of experience at the state meet, Schneider is the clear favorite to win the 3A individual crown based on the last year and a half.
Drew Oliver, Bishop Blanchet
Bishop Blanchet needed another top-notched runner to replace their core of seniors from their 2019 second-place state team, and they'll have that this fall with transfer Drew Oliver. In his first year running for the Braves, Oliver ran the fastest returning 5k time for 3A schools at 15:12.6 and was second overall at the Metro League Cross Country Championships behind teammate Will Schneider. Oliver also ran well in track running personal best times in the 1,600 (4:24.86) and the 3,200 (9:24.52) and was a top-five finisher in both events at the Metro Leagues championship meet. Before high school, Oliver was an All-American middle schooler in 2019 when he placed sixth overall at the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships and helped guide the Rain City Flyers to a national title.
Cruize Corvin, Lakes
Cruize Corvin's progression from his freshman to sophomore year in cross country was one of the biggest accomplishments we saw this past season. After having never won a race in his first season of cross country, Corvin finished his sophomore year undefeated in Pierce County League meets, including winning the league title, and went from placing 62nd overall at the 2019 3A state meet to winning this year's virtual 3A state championship race in a 5k personal best time of 15:17.9. In his first year running high school track, Corvin won another PCL title in the 3,200 and ran top-five 3A times in 4:15.71 in the 1,600 and 9:11.77 in the 3,200 and was ranked first in the 1,500 in the entire state running 3:56.24. Lakes great Izaic Yorks was the latest Lancer to finish top three at the state meet back in 2011, and Corvin will be in the mix for that position.
Aiden Emerson, Arlington
It's taken a few years, but Aiden Emerson is beginning to live up to his expectations. In cross country, Emerson ran a 5k personal best 15:33 and placed 16th in the virtual 3A state meet while part of Arlington's first-ever state championship team in program history. As for the track season, that's where Emerson found his most success as he ran a state-best 1:53.13 in the 800 and a personal best in the 1,600 in 4:11.78. He even threw down a 1:51.1 in a 4x800 relay that Arlington put together in late May. Emerson is clearly the fastest athlete on this list, and this could help him out in the long term when it comes to finishing races with a great kick.
Luke Alfonso, Stadium
To this point of Jacob Alfonso's running career, leading Stadium to the state cross country meet for the time ever in program history back in 2019 has been his greatest accomplishment, but adding individual hardware will be his next prize. This past season, Alfonso improved his state finish by 25 placings as he placed fifth in the virtual 3A state meet running a personal best 5k time of 15:47.7. During track, he ran a personal best 4:22.74 in the 1,600 and 9:39.29 in the 3,200 and was a top-three finisher at the PCL Championships in all distance events and placed eighth in the 400.
Jacob Alfonso, Stadium
Another runner nobody expected to make a big jump this past year was Jacob Alfonso. The Tigers' top returner, and most improved runner, took his 5k time down by 72 seconds running a new personal best 15:36.5 to place third overall in the virtual 3A state cross country meet. In track, Alfonso ran three more PRs for all three distance events, including a 20-second improvement in the 1,600 running 4:19.31, a 37-second improvement in the 3,200 running 9:36.53, and a 1:59 in the 800. He also took home two PCL titles in the 800 and the 1,600 and finished fourth in the 400 and fifth in the 3,200.
Brody Hartley, Walla Walla
In his first year of running high school track, Brody Hartley has already established himself as an all-time great for Walla Walla. Hartley was the runner-up in the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Mid-Columbia Conference Championships and ran 4:14.89 for the 1,600, two seconds off the Wa-Hi school record of 4:12 set by former Blue Devil standout Cooper Cortinas, and 9:28.1 in the 3,200. As for cross country, Hartley's numbers didn't stand out a ton in the 5k as he only improved by 12 seconds from his freshman year running 16:25.7, but a strong track season should be an indicator of what's to come the next couple of months.
Teams to Watch for:
- Bishop Blanchet is the overall best team in the state with the depth and talent returning this fall. Their top three runners in Drew Oliver, Will Schneider, and Tyler Graff are the best trio of any school so far as each could place top five at the state meet individually. There's even the potential to have a fourth individual on the podium in Will Sandnes, who ranks 13th in returning times. Needless to say, the Braves have all the parts to win their first team title since 2004.
- Last year's Arlington group was special, and even though they will be without three talented senior runners, the Eagles return a solid bunch this fall. Aiden Emerson is coming off one of his best seasons of running and is in the mix to be a top-five finisher at the state meet, while Brandon Moore's improvements in cross country and track have led to him being a potential top 10 runner. While the rest of the team has no state experience like Emerson and Moore, there is talent to be found within their third through fifth runners.
- Seattle Prep could be one of the biggest sleepers coming into the fall with the talent and depth they have returning from their second-place Metro League team finish. The Panthers seven-runner spread is a 3A best at 64.2 seconds, and all athletes run under 17:20 for a 5k. No. 1 runner Carter Joy does have big shoes to fill for Owen Nelson and Will Purnell but is a top 16 returning runner in 3A. We will see how the Panthers will fare against their league rivals, Bishop Blanchet, early on in the season.
- Coming off a GSL title and a runner-up finish in the virtual 3A state cross country meet this past spring, the Mead Panthers will look to add to their historic legacy with another hopeful trip to Pasco and bring home another trophy. This year's team is loaded with upperclassmen led by 1:58.57 800 runner in Brycen Gardner, but four of their runners will get their first chance at running varsity this season. It's an experienced team from an age perspective, but they have a ways to go from a state racing level.