Sophomore Phenoms Competitive Rivalry Takes Them to Greater Heights

Sehome's Munson and Blanchet's Schneider are among the nation's best sophomore runners.

Zack Munson (L) and Will Schneider (R) running at the Yakima XC Meet of Champions. (Keenan Gray/The Runner WA)

High school sports have always been a way for young student-athletes to connect and create life-long friendships.


But it's not just students within the same school. It's also with other students from around the local county schools.


Or, in this case, the entire state.


Sehome's Zack Munson and Bishop Blanchet's William Schneider first met each other when racing down at the Portland Youth Track Festival as seventh graders.


Schneider was beginning his running career but looked up to Munson as a whole other level of competition.


“I always knew Zack as the really fast kid from up north,” said Schneider. “I would remember we would go to these races, and I’d see him and be like, ‘oh no, Zack’s here, it’s going to be a fast race.’"


Munson may have been the fast kid from up north, but Schneider was definitely the fast from down south.


Both boys were successful in their own ways in middle school as they dominated the competition in their local areas, and each won Junior Olympic titles in their respective events.


The winning and running fast times didn't stop there.


Schneider and Munson entered high school on the right foot with impressive first-year cross country performances.


Schneider placed seventh at the 3A state cross country meet and was a member of Blanchet's second-place team finish.


“We had a really good cross-country team my freshman season,” said Schneider. “It was also fun because it was my first season of high school running, and I had the opportunity to go out there and run to show what I could do.”


While Munson placed 20th in the 2A meet but was a key contributor to Sehome's eighth consecutive team title.


“It wasn’t a perfect freshman year," said Munson. "I wanted more out of it, but I think I did what was necessary to set myself up for success.”


Despite the track season being out of the normal circumstances, both runners would get chances to compete in virtual meets or even traveled out of state.


Munson went down to the Desert Dream Last Hurrah in Arizona to run in the 3,200 race and was the second-fastest freshman in the field running 9:23. Schneider stayed back home and ran with his teammates in Blanchet's virtual races, where he ran 2:01 in the 800, 4:23 in the 1,600, and 9:31 in the 3,200.


This season hasn't been perfect either due to the condensed cross country and track and field seasons.


Munson, Schneider, and over 30 more athletes toed the line for one of the most historic races Washington has ever witnessed this past April.


The Olympia 3,200 was unlike anything we have seen in a long time, with three athletes breaking the nine-minute barrier and 20 more running under 9:20.


It even drew the likeness of some of the biggest high school running media sources in the country.


“I think everyone took a lot away from that race,” said Munson. “Washington put themselves among the best after that night.”


Munson was fourth overall running 9:00.06, while Schneider was sixth running 9:03.45.


“The motivation for me this season has been seeing the successes of other people from around the state,” said Schneider.


“Seeing Zack run these fast times, I wanted to see if I can hit that mark or do better,” said Schneider.


Since that race, Schneider and Munson have run some of the fastest times in the nation for sophomores.


Schneider ran the fifth-fastest 1,600 time in the country at the Tacoma High Performance meet running 4:11.19, while defeating Munson, who ran 4:13.25, the 10th fastest time.


Down at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, Munson placed fourth in a personal best 8:57.14 at the Stumptown Twilight, ranking him sixth nationally.


“A lot of people struggle to get beyond barriers, but I finally broke this one,” said Munson. “Stumptown was a great experience, and it’s a step in the right direction, but I definitely know I wanted more from it.”


But what's really carried these two young athletes to even greater heights has been their bond created through competition.


“Since the transition to high school, we have gotten to know each other more and more,” said Schneider. “We always knew each other, but this is the first time we have been able to see each other at races and have good conversations about whatever was going on in our lives.”


Races like the Olympia 3,200 and Stumptown aren't possible without communication. If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it's brought us closer to people we would have never expected to grow bonds with.


“This season was even more than I could have expected,” said Schneider. “The success we’ve been able to have by coming together as a state and putting these races together has been really good for us all.”


Just a few years ago, these athletes were just two normal competitors, and now they are both going back and forth with each other to be the best in Washington, with respect for each other, of course.


“When you run at a young age, there are some kids who go way too hard and stop enjoying racing, and then they don’t run in high school,” said Munson. “It’s been really cool to see Will, and I come out of that experience and continue to compete at a high level.”

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