EVERETT — In the beginning, Catie Arrigoni wasn’t sure she wanted to run the steeplechase.
She wasn’t even sure what the steeplechase was.
When the idea was first mentioned, “I hadn’t even heard of it,” said Arrigoni, a 19-year-old sophomore at Everett Community College.
That was two years ago. Arrigoni was being recruited by Everett CC track and field coach Matt Koenigs, and he pointed out that Arrigoni’s long legs — she is 5 feet, 11 inches — would be an asset in a race that involves jumping over barriers.
Because she is tall, “she doesn’t need to jump at all,” Koenigs explained. “She can almost (step) right over the barrier.”
“Lots of people are 5-4 and 5-5, and they actually have to jump,” Arrigoni said. “But I just go over real easy.”
Arrigoni’s size, running talent and determined work ethic have helped her develop into the premier women’s steeplechaser in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. She is the favorite to win the event when the two-day NWAACC championships begin today at Spokane Falls CC.
Earlier this season, Arrigoni ran the steeplechase in 10:59.7, a mark that is a whopping 44 seconds better than the conference’s second-best runner.
“She has gotten astronomically faster (since high school),” Koenigs said. As coaches, he went on, “we can only do so much to help kids get faster. We can teach them how to train, but we can’t actually run the mileage for them. But everything we’ve asked Catie to do, she’s done.
“She puts in loads and loads of work. She’s got the Division I work ethic that it takes to become a runner of this caliber.”
Arrigoni grew up in the north-central Washington town of Oroville, a community with no stoplights, one grocery store (“It’s called ‘Prince’s, and it has food and hardware,” she said) and one fast-food restaurant (“Subway”). Her graduating class from Oroville High School numbered 36, and she was coaxed into turning out for cross country as a senior so her team would have a full complement of five runners, with Arrigoni being the fifth.
She also played basketball and was first approached by Everett CC women’s coach Chet Hovde about playing for the Trojans. Later, Koenigs also contacted Arrigoni, and the chance to play basketball while also running cross country and track led her to choose Everett CC.
Arrigoni, a 5-foot-11 post, played one season of basketball for the Trojans, averaging about three points and four rebounds a game, before deciding to focus solely on running.
By her sophomore year, she said, “running took over my life.”
Still, there was a learning curve to the steeplechase. Arrigoni had grown several inches in recent years, “and her coordination was still catching up with her body,” Koenigs said. “So when we first started running her through drills, it was a little like trying to teach a kid how to walk.
“There were some very interesting moments. Like learning how to (jump over the) water barrier. We were watching her land waist deep in the water, and for a while I thought we might need to take her down to the YMCA to work on her swimming stroke. But she’s figured it out and her water barriers are looking nice right now.”
Arrigoni agrees, sort of. She tends to land on both feet in the water pit — elite runners typically land on one foot — which means “I’m soaking wet when I’m done because I splash so much,” she said. “But we don’t have a pit to practice on, so I can only practice in the races.”
Arrigoni, who has accepted a full tuition scholarship offer from Eastern Washington University in the fall, will run the 5,000 meters Tuesday in addition to today’s steeplechase at the NWAACC championships. She has run the 5,000 just once this season in 17:54, which ranks third in the NWAACC, some 40 seconds behind leader Jessica Mildes of Spokane CC.
Still, she has her eye on a possible pair of victories, a prospect that “gives me goose bumps,” she admitted with a smile. “That’d be super cool.”
But her preferred race is the steeplechase. “I love it so much,” she said. “I like how competitive it is and how I have to attack things. In basketball I was very aggressive player — I probably fouled out of every game — and in the steeplechase I get to be really aggressive, too. I think that’s why I like it so much.
“I don’t want people to pass me. I just have the mindset of, ‘I’m going to win no matter what.’”