Today marks the annual Hole in the Wall Cross Country Invitational at Lakewood, the largest invitational in the state of Washington. In its 30th year, the Hole in the Wall brings the top competition from all over the state -- and beyond, with some runners from Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.
There are 3,101 athletes from 85 schools signed up to run in the 2013 event. The event draws a large crowd of supporters from all the schools, as well as the Lakewood community that helps put the event on.
"It's a big meet for us," said Lakewood head cross country coach Jeff Sowards. "We have tremendous athletic support from our administration and our athletic department. We're really thankful and grateful for all the support we get for the event."
With music going on during 12 races, the Hole in the Wall Invitational is quite a show. Here's what to look for during today's race:
Stacked girls race
With the top-ranked teams in three classifications, the girls varsity race appears loaded with fast runners. Defending 3A state champion, and perennial power, Glacier Peak joins top-ranked Sehome, the defending 2A state champions, and the No. 1-ranked team in 4A Bellarmine Prep.
Sowards expects Bellarmine Prep to have a good showing, but thinks Glacier Peak could push the Lions.
"Glacier Peak should give them a good run, they're ranked No. 1 in 3A," Sowards said. "I think both of those schools have been given some national attention. Those two should be the class of the girls' field."
The race also features several ranked 2A teams, including Burlington-Edison (No. 2), Bellingham (No. 3), Capital (No. 5) and host Lakewood (No. 6).
A pair of brothers from the Great White North appear to be the leading contenders in the boys' race. Nathan and Isaac Wadhwani, from Terry Fox in British Columbia, are both having strong seasons north of the border. Nathan, a senior, has posted a time of 14:56.4 in the Sunfair Invitational.
"The guys field should be a little more open," Sowards said. "Individually, (Wadhwani) should be the guy to beat."
Nathan's younger brother Isaac, who is a junior, is also a strong contender for the boys' title.
The boys race also features Sehome, the No. 1-ranked team in 2A, Lakewood (No. 2), Squalicum (No. 4) and Bellingham (No. 5).
While runners from schools across the state leave early Saturday morning -- or late Friday night -- for Lakewood, the Cougars' teams have the advantage of a much shorter trip to their home course.
And that's not the only perk of hosting an invitational.
"There probably is some truth in that, there being a home-course advantage," Sowards said. "We're familiar with it. We train on it all the time. The course is what it is, but we're definitely more familiar with the course than anyone else, having spent hundreds of miles running it over the summer and the season."
Today the Cougars' boys and girls teams hope that familiarity leads to strong showings by the Lakewood teams against some tough competition.
Want to get out on the course?
The running isn't just for the high school athletes.
For those who spend the whole day watching and are struck with the urge to run themselves there is the last race of the day. The Scott Skiles Memorial All-Comers Race, dedicated to the memory of the Lakewood alum who was killed in a car accident, invites all in attendance to run the course at the Hole in the Wall invitational.
This year, Sowards expects "about 200 people" to run in the final event today.
The race appears wide open this year with former winner, and Lakewood alum John Murray, nursing an injury -- which might cause the Arlington assistant coach to miss the All-Comers Race.
"It can be pretty competitive up front. John's time was usually as good or better than the high school guys, which are quality times," Sowards said.
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