SPOKANE - Two of the most storied high school cross country programs in Washington went head-to-head at Franklin Park on Wednesday, March 25, to clinch the 2020 regular-season team title of the Greater Spokane League.
Both the Mead and North Central boys came in with undefeated GSL records of 6-0, with this meet being the deciding factor of who earns the right to be named regular-season champions.
North Central Head Coach Andrew Kimpel knew this was going to be another great challenge for his team against Mead even after a great performance over a strong Central Valley team, in which they defeated them by a score of 20-39 last week.
"Mead was going to come to play," said Kimpel. "They are coached very well by Austin Stuchell over there, and they won't leave an inch on us for the entire race."
Led by Leif Swanson's first-place run of 15:14.05 for the three-mile race, North Central took care of business over Mead, winning by a score of 23-32 to win their first regular-season title since the 2016 season.
With big implications on the line, Swanson felt his team was more prepared than ever coming into this meet against a deep Mead team, especially since they already had raced a Central Valley team that was similar in depth.
"We just told ourselves there would be no pressure," said Swanson. "We have this thing where we tap our chest for the boys around the halfway point of the race, so we're doing it for our team legacy."
Swanson was challenged early on by Mead's Brycen Gardner, who finished second overall in 15:53.5, but eventually broke away from him with about a mile to go to do his part in winning the individual race.
Although Swanson's win was significant, North Central's efforts to have all five of their scorers in front of Mead's top four to secure the win over their GSL rival was impressive.
"It came down to who had the stronger pack early on," said Kimpel. "It was our No. two and three runners Derek Smith and Zach Kness that decided to break away first, and then our other guys started to follow them. We then protected our positions and got the job done."
Smith and Kness placed fourth and fifth running times of 16:00.85 and 16:06.85, and Ethan Greiner and Jonah Aden were eighth and ninth running 16:20.36 and 16:28.03.
"Those guys were solid," said Swanson. "Derek and the guys always start a little conservative and always pick people off at the end. They're just doing what they got to do. It seems coordinated, but they're out there racing with heart."
Like the boy's race, both the Mead and North Central girls came into the race with identical 5-1 records and a regular-season title on the line.
Led by twins Alanna and Alexis Parker, the Panthers took down the two-time defending league champions 26-33 to secure a share of the regular-season title with Central Valley.
Alanna and Alexis finished second and third overall running personal best times of 18:32.85 and 18:33.19. Sophia Ferraro finished in seventh running 19:34.67 and was the third runner for Mead.
"We wanted to be in the mix with NC's number two," said Alanna. "We figured if we ran as hard as we could, we would have success."
What really carried Mead to victory was their trio of freshmen runners in Charlotte Cullen (19:42.4), Raegan Borg (20:04.65), and Elle Vanning (20:07.02). All three cracked the top 10, finishing eighth through 10th, and were ahead of North Central's No. four runner.
"We got a lot of great freshmen who came in and really helped our team," said Alexis. "They came out last year at the end of track so we could help them get to know each other and get them to understand how to race for each other."
Even with the youth and the amount of depth this team has, Mead Head Coach Dori Whitford sees this as a positive step moving forward for the program to get back to more winning ways in the future.
"In six months, it will be nice to have all these girls back," said Whitford. "The freshmen are starting to realize this is the big leagues in high school, and they are making each other better. We have goals for all of them, and we're going to have a lot of fun along the way and see what happens."
North Central's Allie Janke took first overall in a Franklin Park course record and personal best time of 17:12.63. Madison Lee and Kendall Carter were the two others for North Central in the top 10 placing fourth and fifth running 18:38.27 and 19:12.31.
Both North Central and Mead will run in their last meet of the season next weekend, April 3, at Central Valley High School in the GSL Culminating Championship Meet.
To view more results from this race, click here.
Here are highlights from both races: