PASCO — Amy-Eloise Neale saved the best for last.
In the final state cross country meet of her storied career, Neale won Saturday’s 5-kilometer race at Sun Willows Golf Course in 17 minutes, 3.6 seconds — her fastest time at the top high school event. It was Neale’s third individual championship in her four years at Glacier Peak and helped lead the Grizzlies to their second 3A state championship in three years.
“This is my last shot, you know, for cross country,” Neale said. “Of course I have track, but I just knew that I had to give it everything I had otherwise I was going to be disappointed. No matter what the place. If I got second today and I still ran a great time and I knew I left everything out there on the course, I’d tell myself I have to be happy with that because I couldn’t have done any more.
“Today just worked out awesome and I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
It was a reversal of last year’s result for Neale — and the Grizzlies — who both placed second at the state tournament. Neale fell to rival Katie Knight of North Central and Glacier Peak finished two points behind Camas in the team standings.
The Grizzlies were determined not to let that happen again.
“I (needed) to go fast,” Neale said. “I just (couldn’t) let what happened last year happen again because I finished that race and I was beating myself up, so much, because of it … I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to feel like I did last year again.’”
This year, Neale beat Knight by 41 seconds. The two, who have become friends, recently committed to run together at the University of Washington next year.
Right behind Knight came Neale’s teammate, fellow senior Katie Bianchini, with a time of 17:58.2.
Bianchini’s goal was to finish in under 18 minutes, which she accomplished. Bianchini, who would be the No. 1 runner on pretty much any other team, doesn’t mind following Neale.
In fact, she says if anything, it helps her run faster.
“It’s honestly been a blessing,” Bianchini said. “It has made me better because I’m always trying to run my best race chasing after them and I’m pushed to my best in practice every day because I have Amy there.
“… Honestly, we don’t really think of each other as competitors. We’re teammates. We’re really good friends. It’s just going out there trying to run the best race that I can.”
Glacier Peak head coach Dan Parker said Bianchini and Neale have been exemplary examples for their younger Glacier Peak teammates.
Not surprisingly, he’s going to miss them when they’re gone.
“The state championship is big, you know, you love to win state championships. And these girls deserve it. They’re a great group of kids,” Parker said. “Working with Amy Eloise and Katie Bianchini has been something special, for four years. We’re going to miss them. But at the same time we’ve got a good nucleus … we just have some great girls.”
Parker has coached Glacier Peak every year since the school opened in 2008. The Grizzlies finished ninth at state that first year, and followed that up with a second place finish, state championship in 2010, second again last season and now another state championship.
Before he came to Glacier Peak he was the coach at Snohomish High School, where he saw Neale and Bianchini coming from miles away.
“I knew what Amy Eloise could do and what Katie Bianchini could do,” Parker said. “We run an elementary school race every year called the ‘Great Pumpkin Race’ for all the elementary schools and we saw those people coming in the fourth or fifth grade.”
Parker said in fifth grade Neale was speeding ahead of his Snohomish runners leading the race. The Panthers, a perennial state contender, decided to let her go.
“They said, ‘screw it,’ they didn’t want to run that hard,” Parker said with a laugh. “They just let her go. They didn’t want to run that hard. I think we had to race the next day.”
Neale and Bianchini wanted to perform well in their final state races. There was a little extra pressure to help put their team in a good position to win a championship, as well as a little extra emotion on the starting line.
“Me and my teammate Katie Bianchini both got a little bit emotional last night,” Neale said. “On the line today I started tearing up a little bit. I was like, ‘this is my last shot, you know?’ So in that sense, there was a little more pressure but I have a great team and I knew they were all behind me and Katie.”
It wasn’t the last time the two will compete in a cross country race together. Next weekend Glacier Peak will travel to a regional tournament in Boise, where Parker said they will compete with between 25-30 teams for a berth in the following weekend’s Nike National team.
The top two teams at regionals are guaranteed a spot. Others can be awarded an at-large bid, but Parker thinks that would be unlikely for the Grizzlies. He’s hoping they can build on Saturday’s win and keep their season going.
“I think we’ll look at the race and see we did some really good things today,” Parker said. “We won the state championship. We did it in convincing fashion, and the girls have to feel really proud of that. But if we’re going to continue on we’ve got to step it up next week.”
Team results—Winner: Glacier Peak 66. Local Results: 1. Glacier Peak 66; 11. Oak Harbor 242; 14. Stanwood 278.
Individual results—Winner: Amy-Eloise Neale (Glacier Peak) 17:03.6. Local results: 1. Amy-Eloise Neale (Glacier Peak) 17:03.6; 3. Katie Bianchini (Glacier Peak) 17:58.2; 5. Haley Suarez (Meadowdale) 18:28.6; 10.Christina Wicker (Oak Harbor) 18:58.1; 18. Mikayla Ingram (Glacier Peak) 19:26.1; 19. Alexandra Laiblin (Oak Harbor) 19:27.7; 23. Gigi Vujovich (Shorecrest) 19:35.3; 32. Samantha Northrop (Glacier Peak) 19:42.7; 38. Megan Davis (Glacier Peak) 19:47.7; 39.Jonalynn Horn (Oak Harbor) 19:48.6; 44. Jordin Stephenson (Stanwood) 19:54.1; 51. Ella Schroth (Mountlake Terrace) 20:03.1; 54. Katherine Dittmann (Glacier Peak) 20:08.4; 58. Caylyn Rich (Stanwood) 20:17.4; 76. Haley Longstreth (Glacier Peak) 20:39.8; 99. Sofia Sobotta (Stanwood) 21:07.3; 101. Natalie Wyles (Stanwood) 21:09.5; 104. Alexandra Yerigan (Stanwood) 21:15.0; 110. Rachael Lefstad (Marysville Getchell) 21:23.5; 117. Samantha Powell (Stanwood) 21:32.1; 22.Carlie Kenny (Oak Harbor) 21:42.3; 23. Ashley Everett (Oak Harbor) 21:44.9; 128. Marisa Sligh (Oak Harbor) 21:53.1; 134. Rachel Crowther (Oak Harbor) 22:15.