PASCO - Just two years ago, Larry Weber retired as head coach from Northwest Christian of Lacey, and after a while, he missed the opportunity to work with athletes.
When a new cross country program opened across town at Pope John Paul II High School, Weber decided to apply for the job and was later named the new head coach of the very first team in the school's nine year of existence.
In his first year as the head coach, the Eagles qualified for the state meet where they ended up placing eighth as a team with one person three placings off from the podium.
It would only take a year for Weber to turn an entire program around from a nobody school, to taking down the best 1B/2B school the last three years in Liberty Bell. With a final score of 96-102 over Liberty Bell, Pope John Paul went on to win the school's first ever team title for cross country.
In the nine years of the school's existence, this is the first ever sports program state championship any varsity team had won.
"To win this is huge to our community," said Weber. "I think something like this opens up the gateway for other programs since it is the schools first ever state championship. To break that barrier is an amazing accomplishment. There will always be the one team that won the first state title and it was this group."
When you look at the big picture, Weber wouldn't have believed in anyone if they told him he could win a state championship in his second season with a group that lacks running experience.
"It was pretty amazing and they ran tough," said Weber. "To do this in their second year is an incredible accomplishment. I'm just so proud of them and they beat a very, very good Liberty Bell team. We were just blessed to be able to win today."
Clare Kondrat took eighth overall to lead all Eagles running a time of 20:21.6.
This being her second season of high school cross country, Kondrat credits her entire team for the success they have had all season long dating back to winning their first invite of the season on their home course.
"I don't think it would have been possible to win without our entire team," said Kondrat.
"I know last year we all talked about wanting to get on the podium the next season. So, a big freshman class came in and everyone was working hard and in our minds we knew we were going to work for it. It's just so cool we won."
As a sophomore, Kondrat took on a leadership role which very many high school athletes at her age can't do a great job at, so there were plenty of ups and downs all year long.
"It definitely took some time getting into their heads," said Kondrat. "At points it wasn't always easy, but I think they were all so strong in the end. We had fun this year."
Also joining Kondrat on the podium was Moriah Steinbrecher who placed 15th in a time of 20:56.3.
The rest of the Pope John Paul champion ship team included Bella Kondrat (21:09.3, 24th), Maggie Larson (21:20.6, 28th), Catelin King (21:29.8, 36th), Holley Nichols (21:34, 38th), and Emeline Russell (22:43.9, 65th).
Liberty Bell's second place finish was led by Gretta Scholz and Jori Grialou placing third and sixth running 19:33 and 20:10.4.
St. George's was third with 145 points, followed by Kettle Falls in fourth scoring 148 points.
Taylor Sande led the St. George's girls with her 21st place finish in a time of 21:02.4.
Kettle Falls top three were Mya Edwards (19:53.3, 4th), Emily Montgomery (20:14.2, 7th), and
Life Christian's Gabby Martin won the individual title in a time of 17:57.5, which was a minute and 20 seconds faster than her second place time from the year before.
Coming in having run a personal best time of 17:32.8 at her district meet last weekend, Martin was the clear favorite to win just based off her season performances.
Flying through the first mile at 5:31.5 and then 11:27.8 into the second mile, Martin had made it look effortless out there.
"I just tried to get out front and stick to my pacing," said Martin. "My coaches were helping me out at the mile marks yelling out times, so that helped me stay on pace while also trying to finish hard."
With a time almost two minutes faster than the second best runner at the 1B/2B level, Martin felt very confident in her odds to win and says she has gotten used to running by herself all season long.
Only a sophomore, Martin is looking in the future to bring home two more state titles for herself, as well as a school not known around the state.
"It's kind of a cool to win since I'm only a sophomore and I can try to win the next two," said Martin.
"Our school is pretty small and no one knows about it, so I think having the first ever cross country state champion in school history is pretty cool and will draw attention to Life Christian."
Martin's teammates Olivia Roberts was the Eagles second podium finisher placing 11th in 20:30.8.
Anais Mills of Garfield-Palouse finished in second running a time of 19:24.6 and Cedar Tree Classical's Suzie Johnson was fifth in a time of 20:03.7. Also from Cedar Tree Classical on the podium was Maddy Blake placing 14th in 20:41.1.
Also finishing on the podium were Trout Lake's Myana Stock (20:28.4, 10th), Rainier's Selena Niemi (20:38.9, 12th), Ilwaco's Estella Sheldon (20:40.1, 13th), Northwest Christian's Josie Ryder (20:44.3, 15th), and Colfax's Anna Cocking (20:44.7, 16th).
For more results from the 2019 1B/2B Girl's Cross Country State Championships, visit: http://wiaa.com/subcontent.aspx?SecID=1147