Match-up of Top Runners in the State Goes in Favor of Junior Standout.
LEWISTON, ID - It was the race everyone was looking forward to. Not just at this meet, but around the state as well.
Post Falls' Samantha Wood versus Bonneville's Alivia Johnson; two of Idaho's most elite runners this cross country season would go to battle at the Inland Empire Challenge in Lewiston on Saturday.
For both runners, it was the first time all year where they would be racing against someone with the same talent, but at the end of the day, it was the veteran runner who would take home the win.
After a tightly contested first two miles, Post Falls' Wood used her experience of the course at Lewiston Orchards to win the girl's race in a new personal best time of 17:49.
"I was really excited for this race since I really love this meet," said Wood. "We came here three times my freshman year, and I know it's a fast course."
This was the first time all season Wood had finally someone to race against with Johnson in company, making this race an even more exciting opportunity for the Post Falls' junior to showcase her talents.
"It was cool having her there with me," said Wood. "I really liked it because it's so much harder mentally on your own with pacing yourself. But the previous races where I had raced on my own, it definitely had strengthened me for today."
Wood's new personal best time now ranks her third in the state behind Boise's very talented freshmen duo, Samantha Smith and Allie Bruce.
With all three girls in the 5A classification, this is the making of a very exciting state championship race when Halloween weekend rolls around.
To this point, the state meet appears to be a go on the weekend of Halloween because of the success meets have had this year due to the pandemic going on the last six months.
"I'm just really excited for state and we just get to have it," said Wood. "Not knowing if we would have one or not, every meet my team and I have ran in we have treated it like it's been our last, but it looks like there is hope on horizon."
Bonneville's Johnson was also able to pick up a new personal best time despite finishing in second running in 18:15. Johnson was undefeated in her previous five races this season.
McCall-Donnelly's Sophie McManus was third running 18:47.
Fourth ranked Post Falls came away with the team title scoring 27 points led by Wood. Anna Peters (4th, 18:51), Kaley Bohl (6th, 19:31), Alahna Lien (8th, 19:52), and Leah Holding (12th, 20:29) were the other scorers for the Trojans.
Elliana Rietze (19:26) and Anne Marie Dance (20:10) of Couer d'Alene placed fifth and 10th for the second place Vikings.
Sandpoint was third scoring 90 points with Megan Ouman as there top runner placing 14th in 20:41.
On the boy's side, Thunder Ridge's Seth Bingham pulled off the biggest upset of the day taking down Sandpoint's Nikolai Braedt on the final down hill stretch running a new personal best time of 15:45.
Bingham picked up the first win of his high school career with the incredible performance running almost 30 seconds faster than his personal best from a year ago at the Idaho 5A State Championships where he place eighth.
Coming into the race ranked sixth, Bingham had nothing to lose and was sitting right with Braedt for the entire race until about the final 800 meters to go when he finally just let it rip downhill to the finish.
"Nobody was going to be expecting me in this race," said Bingham. "When I was sitting right behind Nikolai's tail, he looked strong the entire way. But once we hit the downhill, I knew he didn't have it in him, and I have been working on my downhill running as of lately."
It's been two years since Bingham had last run on this course and he didn't remember much about it from the state championship meet his freshman year.
But if there was one part of the course he did remember, it was that last little stretch of downhill of the race where he took full advantage to win.
This cross country season in particular hasn't been the easiest for Bingham though. A few weeks ago, he and the entire Thunder Ridge team had to participate in the Tiger/Grizz Invite on their own because they were quarantined the week before.
"I didn't have any competition in that race being our No. 1 runner," said Bingham. "I tried to give it my all but I only ran 17:31. I think mentally that prepared me for this race. On the drive up, I just kept telling myself 'I need to win this race' and I think that was the difference there for me."
Even though Sandpoint's Braedt didn't come up with the individual win, his second place finish in a time of 15:55 helped the Sandpoint Bulldogs to the team title scoring 38 points.
Jett Lucas was the other Sandpoint runner to finish in the top 10 placing sixth running 16:06. Keegan Nelson (11th, 16:44), Nathan Roche (15th, 16:48), and Spencer Clark III (17th, 16:52) rounded out the scoring for the Bulldogs.
Alex Peters and Bryce Kempton of Post Falls were fourth and fifth running 16:01 and 16:06 while leading the Trojans to a second place finish scoring 62 points.
Invite-Host Lewiston was third with 86 points and their top runner was Payton Bigler placing ninth in 16:33.
Coeur d'Alene's Ethan Garner was third running 16:01.
For more photos from the 2020 Inland Empire Challenge, click here.