TACOMA — Whatever happened, Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight were going to make sure that the final chapter of an incredible four-year rivalry was an honest race.
Regardless of the outcome of Class 3A girls 1,600-meter run, the senior rivals, close friends and future University of Washington teammates decided the pace would be fast from the start, and may the best runner win.
Appropriately, the two girls who have pushed each other from across the Cascades for four cross country and track seasons were out front for the entire four laps of their final head-to-head showdown. Glacier Peak’s Neale led, North Central of Spokane’s Knight ran just behind and Kamiakin’s Megan Beauchene was right there as well to make it a three-way battle.
In the end, as she had four times previously at state, Neale narrowly held off her Knight, winning in a time of 4 minutes, 44.88 seconds — a time that broke the 3A meet record she set as a sophomore. Beauchene edged Knight for second place, but all three finished within one second of each other.
Having a good final race was even more important because Neale didn’t get to battle Knight in the 1,600 last year because of an injury.
“I was really, really disappointed last year missing the 16, watching Katie out there,” Neale said. “I just wanted to be out there pushing with her. … Today, we both wanted to run a really good time. We said, ‘OK, there’s no sitting and kicking. We’re not going to do that where it doddles until the last lap.’ We’d already discussed that (earlier in the season), so coming into it I knew that it was going to be a pretty fast race and we were going to be pretty honest with it.”
Neale’s win gives her six individual state titles in track — she’ll be the favorite to make it seven in Saturday’s 800 meter final — and she also has three cross country titles.
For their first two years, Neale and Knight both ran the 1,600 and 3,200, but Neale has transitioned over the past two years into a middle distance specialist, meaning her second event this week will be the 800, an event in which she is the defending state champ. Knight will try to defend her 3,200 state title on Saturday.
So Thursday’s 1,600 was the final battle between the two, and while Neale has gotten the better of Knight more often in state meets, rarely has a dominant distance athlete so frequently had company.
“I knew I definitely wouldn’t be alone out there and I’d have her to push me,” said Neale, who will finish her high school career with the 3A state meet records in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
As freshmen, Neale beat Knight in the 1,600 and 3,200, winning by less than a second in both races. The next year, Neale again pulled off the distance double, again wining the 1,600 by less than second over Knight, while winning the 3,200 by less than three seconds.
Last year, Neale’s switch to the 800 meant only one Neale-Knight showdown was scheduled for state, and even that failed to materialize after Neale pulled a hamstring while winning the 800 and had to sit out the 1,600. That opened the door for Knight to finally break through, winning the 1,600 and 3,200. In cross country, Knight claimed the state title in 2011, while Neale won in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“It’s been amazing,” Neale said of her rivalry with Knight. “(The) freshman and sophomore years were very nerve-wracking, but at this point, it’s more about each of us running the best we possibly can and pushing to be the best we can possibly be.
“Obviously when we go out there we want to win, but it’s not, ‘Oh, I want to beat Katie.’ I just want to finish the race and know I left everything out there on the track. I definitely think that we both wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t push each other week in and week out throughout the cross country and track seasons.”
Added Knight: “It used to be pressure, but it’s not pressure anymore, because I know Amy only makes me faster, and hopefully she feels the same way about me. It’s no longer pressure, now it’s just an enjoyment.
“I really enjoy racing with her because I know she’s such a tough competitor and I can trust her to make it a good race.”
And while Neale’s move to the 800 means only one showdown at state this year, that bit of separation for two runners whose high school careers have been so closely linked isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“That’s OK, she’s much more an 800 runner and I’m much more a two-miler, which honestly makes it better,” Knight said. “When we were younger, it felt like we were the exact same, and we were going to be doing it over and over again, but now we have such respect for each other as athletes.”
At the 4A level, Lynnwood’s Mikayla Pivec earned a sixth-place finish in the 1,600 with a time of 4:59.29, making her the top freshman in the field.
Wesco throwers third and fourth
A strong contingent of shot putters from Wesco knew that a state title would be tough to come by if Wenatchee’s Cody O’Connell was on his game, and sure enough, the WSU football recruit was in form Thursday, winning the 4A title with a throw of 59 feet, 93/4 inches.
It was still a good day for Lake Stevens senior Carey Campbell, who was third with a mark of 56-10, and for Arlington senior Dan Boyden, who finished fourth at 55-81/2. Cascade senior Nick Demars finished eighth with a throw of 50-03/4.
Demars was in Tacoma as an alternate, and got his chance to compete because Lynnwood’s Andrew Basham, last week’s bi-district winner, was a surprise scratch. According to Lynnwood coach Duane Lewis, Basham violated the school’s athletic policy, and was therefore pulled from the meet. Basham also had qualified for state in the discus.
Leatherman third in discus
Arlington’s Lyndsay Leatherman opened her state meet by finishing third in the 4A girls discus with a throw of 126-4.
Leatherman, who won Wesco and bi-district titles in the discus, shot put and javelin, competes in the shot put today and the javelin Saturday. She is the No. 2 seed in both events.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.