Brandon Moore (36), Aiden Emerson (39) and Kiyoshi Hall (35) have helped lead the Arlington boys cross country team to another dominant season that has them dreaming big heading into Saturday’s state championships. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Brandon Moore (36), Aiden Emerson (39) and Kiyoshi Hall (35) have helped lead the Arlington boys cross country team to another dominant season that has them dreaming big heading into Saturday’s state championships. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Arlington boys cross country found recipe for success

Over the past decade, the Eagles’ boys program has gone from doormat to perennial 3A state power.

The Arlington High School cross country program went nearly four decades without qualifying its boys team for the state meet.

But now, reaching state is the expectation.

And coming home with hardware is commonplace.

The Eagles’ boys cross country program has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade, rising from an afterthought to a perennial Class 3A state power. And after cruising to another district title last week, this year’s team is dreaming big heading into Saturday’s state meet in Pasco.

“We’re real focused on trying to win a state championship this year,” said longtime Arlington coach Mike Shierk, who’s in his 23rd season with the program. “… They’re ready to go. And most importantly, they believe.”

Just a decade ago in 2011, the Eagles finished last out of 16 teams in the district meet for the second consecutive year. At that point, the program hadn’t sent a boys team to state since 1975.

But by 2014, things had changed. Arlington completed an enormous turnaround that season, winning the 3A District 1 title and earning a fourth-place state trophy.

And that helped kickstart the program’s rise.

The Eagles have now captured five district titles in the past seven full-length seasons. They’re headed to state for the seventh consecutive time. And they’ve earned six consecutive 3A top-10 state finishes, including four top-four state trophies during that span.

“We got a crop of guys that just were brothers,” Shierk said of that 2014 team that helped change the program’s trajectory. “They just loved each other, they were committed to a cause and they got the ball rolling.

“And once you get that momentum going and there’s a sense of tradition, there’s kind of a sense of responsibility to keep the tradition going. It just kept going from there. Now, it’s just a belief. It’s a part of our program. It’s an expectation.”

And with Shierk also being a teacher and track coach at one of Arlington School District’s middle schools, he’s able to spread that belief to potential runners before they even reach high school.

“I just try to hook ‘em,” Shierk said. “I used to coach track at the high school, but I thought I could better serve the cross country program by coaching track at the middle school — getting these kids’ interest and then bringing them on board with what we’re doing.”

One of the biggest factors in the program’s ascent, Shierk said, was the addition of former Washington State University distance-running standout Jon Murray as a co-head coach in 2011.

“Jon definitely was like a dream come true for me, because then I finally had someone who was as passionate about the sport as I was,” Shierk said. “And together, we could just really produce something positive. And I think we’ve got a great model right now just in everything we do.”

Through trial and error, Shierk said, they found a consistent recipe for success.

“It requires a lot of commitment, but we tried to set the program up so that the kids see the benefit in it and they enjoy it, and it’s not like we’re just twisting their arm to do it,” Shierk said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, we love this.’ It’s a culture.

“We’ve got a camp that we do,” he added. “We’ve got summer training. We’ve got things that we do during the season. We’ve got expectations, how we race, how we manage things, how we fundraise, everything. And if we do those things correctly with integrity, it all comes together.”

And for the Eagles, it certainly has come together this fall.

Arlington dominated last week’s 3A District 1 championships, winning the team title by a whopping 100 points. The Eagles had four runners finish in the top five of the 17-team race.

And heading into the state meet, Arlington has four runners ranked in the top 40 of the 3A classification, according to

“They’re probably one of the hardest-working groups of guys I’ve ever known, because they’re just tough as nails,” Shierk said. “They bring it. They’re highly competitive. They’re edgy. They don’t mess around.

“They come to practice like it’s a work day. They’ve got their hard hat on with their lunch pail, and they show up ready to get it done.”

But as senior standouts Aiden Emerson and Brandon Moore said, they’re also a tight-knit group that enjoys each other’s presence.

“We really put a lot of emphasis on having fun and making sure we’re not stressing ourselves out,” Emerson said. “So we know that when it’s time to work hard, it’s time to work hard. But when you’re not, you should be having fun and hanging out with the boys.”

The Arlington’s boys cross country team finished first at the 3A District 1 Championships on Oct. 30 at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Arlington’s boys cross country team finished first at the 3A District 1 Championships on Oct. 30 at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Eagles are led by the elite one-two punch of Emerson and Moore. Both finished in the top 35 of the most recent 3A state meet back in 2019, helping Arlington to a fourth-place state trophy.

Emerson’s fastest 5,000-meter time this season is 15 minutes, 22.6 seconds, which ranks seventh in 3A. Moore, who won the individual district title last week, ranks 11th in 3A with a top time of 15:36.8.

On any given day, Shierk said, either one of them can be the Eagles’ top runner.

“I continue to think to myself, ‘When does a coach get lucky enough to have those two boys?’” Shierk said. “Because they’re a couple of horses. Man, can they get after it. They’re prototypical Pac-12 potential runners. … They’re just a coach’s dream.”

Shierk remembers coaching a middle school track meet when Moore and Emerson were in eighth grade and racing for rival schools. Moore ran a 4:39 mile, which was one of the fastest times in the nation for his grade, Shierk said. Emerson crossed the line shortly after in 4:52.

“I call Jon and I go, ‘You’re never gonna believe what just happened,’” Shierk said. “… And (now) here they are as seniors. And either one of them on Saturday could win the state championship. They’re both in it.”

Over the past few years, Emerson and Moore have become best friends who push each other in cross country and hang out with each other outside of the sport.

“It’s really great to have somebody that you can hang out with,” Emerson said, “and then also work hard with, go on runs with and … go try to win state titles with.”

Arlington’s No. 3 and No. 4 runners are senior Kiyoshi Hall and junior Ryan Rushton, who each would be the top runner on most teams around the state. Hall is ranked 34th in 3A with a best time of 16:10.4, while Rushton is 38th at 16:13.3.

Behind them are junior Kellen Langford (16:50.5) and sophomore Myles Murray (17:01.3), who is co-head coach Jon Murray’s son. Rounding out the Eagles’ top seven is sophomore Andrew Schmitz (17:20.3).

“I’ve had to remind myself all season long to really, really appreciate what we have right now, because we’ve got these guys that are so tough,” Shierk said. “So you just have to sometimes pinch yourself and remember what you’ve got and appreciate it. It’s pretty cool.”

To capture the 3A state title Saturday, Arlington would have to beat a juggernaut Bishop Blanchet team. The Braves are loaded with elite talent, featuring four runners who are ranked in the top five of 3A.

But Shierk said he and his runners are confident in themselves and their race plan.

“We expect it to be a pretty special day,” Shierk said. “We look forward to it. They’re ready to go, man. They’re ready to go. They are chomping at the bit.”

“We’ve been dreaming about (this) race since summer started,” Emerson added. “… We’re all really excited. We have big expectations and hopefully we can pull off something special.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Jean-Luc Baker leads advanced students through a warmup during the Seattle Skating Club 2024 Your True Step figure skating seminar on Saturday, June 15, 2024, at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Patterson: What’s next for local Olympian Jean-Luc Baker?

The Edmonds ice dancer brought Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen to town with Your True Step.

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2024, in Seattle, Washington. (Alika Jenner / Getty Images)
Mariners week: Gilbert’s brilliance lifts Seattle to sweep

Seattle’s 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West is its largest since the 2001 season.

AquaSox week in review: Mariners’ Polanco does rehab stint

Everett wins five of six on the road against Eugene; Schreck and Garcia have big weeks.

Women’s PGA Championship offers fans chance to watch and learn

The women’s golf major tournament comes to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish beginning Thursday.

Jackson senior and UNLV commit Yanina Sherwood is The Herald’s 2024 Softball Player of the Year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 Softball Player of the Year: Jackson’s Yanina Sherwood

With both her arm and bat, Sherwood led the Timberwolves to their second-straight state title.

Kamiak’s Synclair Mawudeku (2) pitches during a 4A softball game between Kamiak and Jackson at Kamiak High School on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. Jackson won, 9-0. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area softball team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches the game-winning touchdown pass as Eagles cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter on Dec. 18. (Yong Kim / Tribune News Service)
Seahawks look to fully unlock Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s potential

Seattle is expecting good things from the receiver, who was taken 20th overall in the 2023 draft.

Everett 8-year-old Ryder Romano was selected to compete in the prestigious Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Walker)
Everett 8-year-old selected to prestigious hockey tournament

Ryder Romano will play at the Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament on July 1-7 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21) celebrates a stop of Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Nov. 30, 2023. The Cowboys won, 41-35. (Tom Fox / Tribune News Service)
Captain of the Seahawks defense? Why it could be Witherspoon

The talented second-year cornerback brought ‘outrageous energy’ to Seattle’s minicamp.

Drew Bryson, the new Arlington boys basketball head coach, at Arlington High School on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington taps alum Bryson to continue boys hoops tradition

The former Eagles star succeeds Nick Brown as Arlington’s head coach.

Why Seahawks are joining NFL trend with joint practices

Seattle will conduct practices with the Tennessee Titans prior to their preseason game.

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn on the sidelines June 15, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Aces in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt / Las Vegas Review-Journal, file)
As WNBA exposure grows, Storm content to quietly stack wins

Amid the Caitlin Clark-fueled buzz, Seattle has won seven of its past eight.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.