LANGLEY — Over the past couple of years, Joseph Skoog has been one of the area’s top cross-country runners.
But for the Jackson senior standout, a signature performance in a district or state meet had proven elusive.
That is, until Saturday.
Skoog pulled away from the pack at the race’s midway point and left any prior big-meet struggles behind him, racing to the Class 4A boys Northwest District title with a winning time of 16 minutes, 14.81 seconds on the 5,000-meter course at South Whidbey High School.
“He’s a great kid — really one of the best kids we’ve had,” Jackson coach Eric Hruschka said. “And for him to kind of put it all together today was really fun to watch, because he’s worked so hard to do this and really believes in what we’re doing. And it showed today.”
Skoog said he was hampered by a sideache during last year’s district championships and had struggled with his mindset in other previous big meets. But with his victory Saturday, the fourth-year distance runner appears to have turned a corner.
“It’s just worlds different than last year (at districts),” he said. “It just feels good. … I just need to keep my focus and not doubt myself.”
Saturday’s district title was the second consecutive big performance for Skoog, who took first place in last week’s Wesco Championships with a personal-best 15:23.5. Skoog will look to continue his recent success at next week’s state meet in Pasco.
“He had a lot of success early (in his career),” Hruschka said. “Sometimes you get a little bit ahead of yourself, because he’s running so fast (that) he’s running against kids that either have more experience or more confidence, or just have more to draw on.
“He’s finally got that experience now as a senior, and I think he’s running more and more consistently. And it’s exciting to see.”
Jackson sophomore Brenden Charbeneau finished two seconds behind Skoog, taking second place with a time of 16:16.88. The one-two punch of Skoog and Charbeneau led the Timberwolves to the 4A boys district team title.
“To go one-two was pretty darn cool,” Hruschka said. “That was really, really cool for our team.”
Glacier Peak took second place in the 4A boys district team standings to join Jackson in qualifying its team for state. The Timberwolves and Grizzlies each had three runners earn top-seven finishes.
Lake Stevens senior Taylor Roe cruised to her fourth consecutive 4A girls district title, posting a winning time of 18:32.74. The two-time cross-country state champion finished more than 23 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
It was the second straight massive margin of victory for Roe, who took first place in last week’s Wesco Championships by more than 50 seconds.
She crossed the line in 17:22.6 last week, coming within one second of the personal-best time she ran as a sophomore. It was the second-best 4A girls time in the state entering Saturday, according to Athletic.net.
After logging some times that weren’t quite up to her liking earlier this season, the distance-running phenom certainly is on an upward trend as she aims for her third state cross-country crown next weekend.
“There have been some big downs and some big ups (this season),” Roe said. “… Last weekend, I just kind of was tired of how I was performing and said, ‘I’m not going to give myself any excuses. I’m just going to go for it and just try to keep a positive attitude the whole time.’”
Glacier Peak claimed the 4A girls district team title, led by four runners finishing in the top 10. Jackson placed second in the team standings to join the Grizzlies as a state-qualifying team.
Edmonds-Woodway senior Deyago Peraza continued his rapid ascension as one of the state’s top runners, claiming the 3A boys district crown with a winning time of 16:07.87.
In just his second year running cross country, Peraza is ranked second in the state’s 3A classification after posting a personal-best 15:14.2 in the Hole in the Wall Invitational earlier this month.
“Deyago is one of the most talented guys I’ve ever worked with,” Warriors coach Al Bonney said. “He’s only been in the sport for two years. … It’s very impressive.”
Peraza was one of three Edmonds-Woodway seniors who earned top-four finishes. Dylan Hartono placed second (16:09.65) and Lucas Lacambra took fourth (16:22.70) to help the Warriors capture the 3A boys district team title.
It was a bounceback performance from last week, when talent-laden Edmonds-Woodway finished behind Arlington for second place in the Wesco Championships team standings.
“When they got edged last week, it was kind of like, ‘You know what, we don’t belong (in second place) and we’re going to make it up next week,’” Bonney said. “And that’s exactly what they did.
“They were on a mission, and they carried out the mission. They really got it done.”
Many of the state’s best 3A boys runners were competing in Saturday’s district meet. Entering the day, seven of the classification’s top 10 runners were from Wesco.
“It’s unbelievable how good this conference is,” Bonney said.
Arlington placed second in the 3A boys district team standings and Snohomish took third place. The Eagles and Panthers join Edmonds-Woodway as the district’s three state-qualifying teams.
Shorecrest senior Lillian Visser cruised to the 3A girls district title with a winning time of 19:02.74. She crossed the line 20 seconds ahead of senior teammate Lauren Block, who comfortably took second place.
“Lauren and I have been really excited for this race,” Visser said. “We knew that was a potential to come in one and two. We’ve just been hyping each other up all week, just talking about the potential for that.
“And then when I crossed the finish line and saw her finishing, I was just so happy for her.”
It’s been a breakthrough season for the senior duo of fourth-year runners.
“That was a big run for both of them,” Shorecrest coach Sheri Goodwin said. “They’ve put their heart and soul into it. … It all came together for their senior year. They both have had their ups and downs, and then it all came together due to consistency.”
Snohomish won the 3A girls district team title and will be joined in Pasco by state-bound Edmonds-Woodway and Arlington.
OTHER NOTABLE LOCAL FINISHERS
King’s junior Naomi Smith claimed the 1A girls district crown with a winning time of 18:16.05, finishing 13 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor and leading the state-bound Knights to the district team title. Smith entered the day as the third-ranked girls runner in the state regardless of classification, according to Athletic.net.
Mountlake Terrace junior Alex Williams captured the 2A boys district crown in 16:34.48. He led the Hawks to a third-place finish in the district team standings, which qualifies them for state.
Granite Falls junior Isaac Cortes won the 1A boys district title, crossing the line in 16:37.27.
The Cedarcrest girls, South Whidbey boys, South Whidbey girls and King’s boys teams also reached state. Cedarcrest claimed the 2A girls district team title.