ARLINGTON — Teams from Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, California, Nevada and all over Washington state descended Saturday on Lakewood High School for what’s grown into likely the largest annual high-school cross country meet in the Pacific Northwest.
The sheer size of the spectacle was particularly evident during the early portion of each race, when a seemingly never-ending mass of runners sped down a gravel hill and circled the school’s track in front of cheering fans and booming music from the stadium speakers.
A meet-record 125-plus high-school cross country teams competed in Saturday’s 36th annual Hole in the Wall Invitational, with nearly 1,500 runners split over the event’s four varsity races. Including middle-school and junior-varsity races, more than 4,000 runners took part in the day-long meet.
“I don’t know that anybody ever dreamed that it would be like this,” Lakewood coach and meet director Jeff Sowards said. “… It is not the 11-, 12-team meet that it was when we first started.”
And as the event’s top runners showed, this high-level meet was as much about quality as quantity.
Both the upper-division varsity boys and girls races were run at blistering paces and produced numerous state-ranked times. Seven of the state’s top nine girls times this season and five of the state’s top 11 boys times were run Saturday at the Hole in the Wall, according to Athletic.net.
“The field of teams that’s here — I mean, this is probably going to be more competitive than the state meet,” Arlington coach Mike Shierk said.
Eisenhower senior Jonas Price won the boys upper-division varsity race in a scorching 14 minutes, 49.9 seconds, which is the 14th-fastest time in the nation this season. Kate Peters, a freshman phenom from Lincoln (Oregon), posted the 10th-fastest time in the nation, crossing the line in 16:58.7 to win the girls upper-division varsity race. Both runners handily set meet records on the 5,000-meter course.
“Those records today were really impressive,” Sowards said.
LYNNWOOD RUNNER TAKES 2ND IN PHOTO FINISH
The most dramatic finish of the day came in the boys lower-division varsity race, which included runners whose teams had an average time of more than 18 minutes.
With both runners going stride for stride down the closing stretch of track in front of the stadium grandstands, Lynden senior Isaiah Ellis edged Lynnwood senior Micah Murphy by 0.1 seconds to claim the title.
Murphy settled for second place in the 432-runner race with a personal-best time of 15:53.8.
“I don’t have a very fast 100 (meters), so I tried to kick from 300 to see if I could drop him,” Murphy said. “But he just stayed right there, so props to him. It stung a little bit. … I was a little frustrated, but I was just glad I broke 16 (minutes) for the second time in a week. I’m excited for the postseason to start.”
Murphy ran through an injury for about four weeks last spring during track season before being diagnosed with a broken ankle. The injury cut into his summer training, but the Lynnwood standout certainly has recovered from the setback.
Murphy broke the 16-minute mark during last Saturday’s Twilight Invitational in Marysville, then trimmed a few more seconds off his time Saturday afternoon.
“(He has) big dreams for state, so this was a good step in that direction,” Lynnwood coach Stephanie Tastad said.
KING’S STANDOUT PLACES 6TH IN ULTRA-FAST GIRLS RACE
King’s senior Naomi Smith, the defending Class 1A state champion, took sixth place out of 316 runners in the girls upper-division varsity race with a time of 17:37.5.
It wasn’t quite the personal-best 17:21.7 that Smith ran in last week’s Twilight Invitational, which was the fastest girls time in the entire state heading into Saturday.
“Last week unfolded really well and she felt really comfortable,” King’s coach Rod Wilcox said. “This week didn’t feel as good, and the time showed that. … She really wanted to run with the big girls, and she just (came) up a little sick today and couldn’t do it. So she’s frustrated, but life goes on.”
Smith now holds the second-fastest time in the state this season and the fastest time in the 1A classification by more than 40 seconds. She’s one of just five girls in the entire state this year who have broken the 18-minute mark.
The top three finishers in Saturday’s girls upper-division varsity race each posted top-35 times in the nation.
ARLINGTON RUNNER EARNS TOP-10 FINISH
Arlington sophomore Aiden Emerson placed 10th out of 380 runners in the boys upper-division varsity race with a massive personal best.
Emerson crossed the line in 15:34.0, which is tied for the fifth-fastest time in the 3A classification and for the 20th-fastest time in the entire state. His performance led the Eagles to an eighth-place finish out of 52 schools in the boys upper-division varsity team standings.
Emerson was sidelined earlier this season with iliotibial band syndrome, an overuse knee injury also referred to as IT band syndrome. He didn’t run his first race of the season until 16 days ago, but made up for lost time was his performance Saturday against some of the Pacific Northwest’s top runners.
“He’s wanting to make that next step, so this was a big deal,” Shierk said. “He wanted to have a good showing because this is the best teams in the state, some of the best guys. He’s dreaming big.”
“It gains my confidence,” Emerson said. “I have really big goals this year, and I was kind of doubting them. And now I have a new confidence in them.”
SOUTH WHIDBEY RUNNER TAKES 2ND PLACE
South Whidbey junior Kaia Swegler Richmond placed second out of 364 runners in the girls lower-division varsity race with a personal-best time of 18:50.5.
It was the 35th-fastest girls time in the entire state this season and the sixth-fastest in the 1A classification.
OREGON POWERHOUSE SWEEPS TEAM TITLES
Jesuit High School of Portland, Oregon, won both the boys and girls upper-division varsity team titles.
The Jesuit boys, ranked No. 14 in the nation, finished 38 points ahead of second-place Bishop Blanchet in the team standings. On the girls side, Jesuit edged Lincoln (Oregon) by one point to claim the team title.