When Ben Lance looked over his shoulder two-thirds of the way into the District 1 Class 4A boys cross country championship race Saturday, he saw something unexpected.
It was Lance’s teammate, Ian McLeod – a talented runner, but not one expected to contend in the 3.1-mile competition at South Whidbey High.
“I was just amazed: Is that Ian?” said Lance, a senior at Jackson High School, same as McLeod.
Lance eventually pulled away from McLeod in the final 400 meters and won in 16 minutes, six seconds, outlasting Shorewood’s Chip Jackson by two seconds.
McLeod took third in 16:11. His performance, more than any other, left people buzzing.
“It was the race of his life,” Lance said of McLeod, who placed seventh last week at the Wesco South meet.
“That’s the best race I’ve ever had, by far,” McLeod said. “This week I just felt good. I was in the lead pack. I told myself if I was in that lead pack I was going to try for the win myself.”
Lance, McLeod and Connor Frederickson (fourth place) helped top-ranked Jackson win the district team title, its first since 2003. The Timberwolves, No. 1 in the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association 4A poll, qualified for this week’s state meet (Nov. 8 at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco). Lake Stevens and Shorewood also advanced to state.
In Pasco, Jackson will try to win the program’s first state championship. Last year it placed fifth.
“It’s awesome. I love my team,” Lance said. “We’re having the best season in school history. It’s making it a lot of fun.”
Jackson head coach Eric Hruschka said Lance ran a smart race, using an aggressive pace midway through. And of McLeod, Hruschka said: “He’s just starting to put the whole race together now. It was really cool to see a senior do that at the district meet.”
Jackson’s five scoring runners placed in the top 12, and their next-fastest finishers were 14th and 16th.
In addition to team qualifiers, the top 15 individual placers advanced to the state meet. Among them were brothers Scott Larson and Drew Larson of Lake Stevens (fifth and 13th, respectively). Other top finishers included Oak Harbor’s Tyler King (sixth), Monroe’s Brian Sutter (seventh), Mountlake Terrace’s Michael Tran (eighth) and Cascade’s Dylan Hopper (ninth).
McLeod of Jackson said he thought of a former friend throughout his breakthrough run. He was spurred on by the memory of his departed dog Huck, a husky-golden retriever-collie mix. This past summer McLeod’s family mercifully put Huck to sleep; the dog was 14 years old and had too much arthritis-related pain, said McLeod.
McLeod said he imagined Huck running by his side Saturday. It would have been an imposing challenge for the dog.
“By the time I started running (cross country) he was too old to actually go on runs with me,” McLeod said, “so I just took him on walks.”
STANWOOD’S BORSETH WINS GIRLS RACE: Jade Borseth entered the stadium virtually stride for stride with Wesco North league champion Lacey Wagner of Lake Stevens. But Borseth found the kick she needed over the final 300 meters to win the Wesco district championship in 18 minutes, 46 seconds.
“Everybody kept telling me, ‘If you think you can do it, then you can do it,’” Borseth said. “I just had to get past the mental stage.”
The victory was a remarkable improvement after she placed fourth in last week’s Wesco North race.
“I think she was ready to make it hurt a little bit today and I think that made the difference,” said Stanwood head coach Paul Johnson. “She’s a very talented girl and a great kid. She’s a fabulous worker and terrific young gal. I’m excited for her.”
Fellow Spartans Natasha Verma (third, 18:58) and Minna Fields (ninth, 19:33) helped Stanwood secure their first-ever 4A district title and first overall since winning the 3A district title in 2001.
“It’s really exciting here today. Our kids have gotten better each week and we got better again today,” said Johnson, who had six of his seven runners record personal-best times on Saturday. “That’s always the goal. You always hope you run your very best race at the end of the season and we’re doing that right now.”
Wagner finished seven seconds behind Borseth in second place.
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t win, but I think I ran hard. I gave it everything I could so I’m satisfied with that,” Wagner said. “I’m happy to be going on to next week. That’s an accomplishment in itself.”
Jackson qualified for the state as a team by finishing in second place after winning the Wesco South title last week.
Stephanie Houck (10th, 19:34) and Alison Ponce (14th, 19:55) led the way for the Timberwolves, ranked sixth among 4A teams in the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association Poll.
Snohomish claimed the third and final team berth to next weekend’s state meet. Kristi Fairbanks finished 13th in 19:50 to lead the Panthers.