MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The Mountlake Terrace boys cross country team won the Western Conference 3A championship a year ago, giving the Hawks great hopes of advancing to the state meet.
A week later, those hopes were dashed.
One week after claiming the Wesco title, Mountlake Terrace competed at the Northwest District meet, needing only a top-three finish to qualify for state. Alas, the Hawks finished fourth behind Glacier Peak, Oak Harbor and Shorewood, abruptly and painfully ending their season.
“They take three teams and we were fourth,” Mountlake Terrace coach Todd Weber said. “We were on the outside looking in.”
The team’s top runner, then-junior Jack Pearce, qualified for state as an individual, but the fact that his teammates were left behind “was hugely disappointing,” he said.
“It was very frustrating,” agreed then-junior Nathan Sparks, one of those who stayed home.
Cross country teams, unlike those in other sports — football, for example — compete in regular-season races that mean very little. The big prize is the chance to run at state, and to get there teams have to qualify with a top district finish. The entire season, then, is about developing and preparing for those big postseason races.
And for the Hawks this season, the chance to compete at state after missing out a year ago “is like a carrot dangled in front of them,” Weber said. “It’s unfinished business.”
Mountlake Terrace returns five of its top seven runners from last fall and that group, mostly seniors, “pretty much got together the day after the district meet last year and said, ‘What do we have to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’” Weber said. “They were all very disappointed, but they also knew we had one more shot at this.”
Already this season, Weber has seen a squad hungry to achieve and determined not to come up short again. Pearce, a three-year letter winner and two-time state meet competitor (he finished 38th last year), is again setting the pace, but he is being pushed by fellow senior Peter Kidane, another three-year letter winner.
Sparks, Wyatt Allamen and Chris Baumgartner are other seniors in the top group, while Conrad Bratz is the team’s leading junior. In total, the Hawks have nine returning letter winners.
“They’re just a neat group,” Weber said. “(The seniors) started out together as freshmen, and they’ve just decided to make sure in their senior year that (missing out on state) doesn’t happen again. I think they’re on a mission.”
“We all feel like we’ve worked real hard to this point,” Sparks said. “And after not making it last year, we all want to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we can do this, that we’re a state-level team.”
Pearce, one of the state’s top runners, said he has goals this season of a top-five finish at state and wins in all his other races.
“But I’d trade all of that to bring my team to state,” he said. “Doing something with a team effort is so much more satisfying than doing something as an individual.”
“And obviously we’d love that, too,” Sparks chimed in.
The road will not be easy, of course. Weber expects Glacier Peak, Oak Harbor and Shorewood to contend again, which means the upcoming district meet could be every bit as competitive as a year ago.
“I think we got hit a little less by graduation than some of those teams,” Weber said, “but it’s going to be the same (showdown). We’re going to have to show up on that Saturday and hope that all our kids run well.
“But I think if all our kids run the way they can, I think we’re in.”