Special to the Seattle Times
PASCO — The Class 3A girls’ state cross-country championship Saturday was a grudge match for Glacier Peak senior Amy-Eloise Neale. After winning state titles her freshman and sophomore year, she finished second last year to North Central of Spokane’s Katie Knight — she wouldn’t come up short again.
On the first leg of the 3.1-mile course at Sun Willow Golf Course, Neale’s strides separated her from the field as she took off up the hill on the ninth fairway. Once the lead was hers, she never came close to letting it go.
“I was thinking that I just can’t let what happened last year happen again,” Neale said. “because I finished that race and I was beating myself up so much cause of it.”
Knight’s title defense was good on Saturday, but Neale was better. By the 2-mile mark, Neale had already gained roughly a 60-meter lead.
Neale finished in 17 minutes, 3 seconds, topping Knight, who ran it in 17:44. Neale’s teammate Katie Bianchini was third, with a time of 17:58.
Even with a large lead, Neale kept her head in the right place. She knows Knight too well not to.
“My plan was to go out hard and just keep hammering,” Neale said. “because I knew Katie wanted to stick with me.”
Knowing how Knight likes to run and her usual strategy has led to Neale becoming more comfortable against her in a big race like the state championship. And that’s probably a good thing, since the two will be teammates together next fall at the University of Washington.
“I taught myself to be less nervous now than I used to be (running against Knight),” Neale said “We’re friends now. It’s not like she’s an alien runner. We’re both runners, we’re both friends … so it helps to just relax a little bit and just focus on the race.”
Like Neale, Glacier Peak finished second as a team in 3A in 2011. The Grizzlies found redemption Saturday, just like their top runner.
With 66 points, Glacier Peak took first place, followed by Kamiakin (141) and Penninsula (142).
Grizzlies’ head coach Dan Parker was pleased to see Neale go out on top. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is plenty of room for improvement as Regionals approach.
“We expected to win the race,” Parker said. “But we had goals set ahead of time. We wanted to have the fastest average time ever run by five girls, but it didn’t happen. We’re racing Regionals next week and there will be plenty of competition there.”
The trip to Pasco was an emotional one for Neale, who realized that it would be her last race for Glacier Peak — the last time that her and Bianchini run for the same school.
“I know me and my teammate Katie Bianchini, we both got a little emotional last night,” Neale said. “On the line today I started tearing up a little bit (thinking) this is my last shot.”
Neale wasn’t the only girl who added to her first place collection in Pasco. In Class 2A, Sehome of Bellingham sophomore Emily Pittis won her second consecutive title, finishing in 18:18, one second slower than her time in 2011.
Up until the 2-mile mark, Pittis was behind East Valley of Spokane freshman Brittany Aquino and Squalicum of Bellingham senior Brittany Gappa.
But then, Pittis thought of her team.
“That’s the point where I was like, ‘I have to drop them, I have to go for it’,” she said. “I had to get this for my team. There’s nothing else I want more than my team to have the best race they can possibly have.”
Pittis was quick to admit that she would give up her first place finish last year for a team title. She didn’t have to choose this year — the Mariners finished in first thanks to Pittis, freshman Rebekah Oviatt (9th place) and freshman Dana Ringler (13th place).
Winning the individual title as a freshman was special for Pittis, but this year’s race couldn’t have felt much more different.
“It was a whole different race [last year] because I wasn’t going in expecting to be challenging for first,” Pittis said.
This year, not only was it a possibility, but Pittis was considered a favorite to win. Last week in the Northwest District Championship, she took first place as did the Mariners.
In Class 1A, the 2011 first and second place teams swapped places — last year’s runner-up, Riverside, took first place on Saturday with 70 points, while the 2011 champ, Lakeside, finished second (78).
Senior Sally Larson of Cedar Park Christian finished first in 1A, with a time of 18:38.
Camas, which is in its first year as a 4A school, won the 4A championship. In doing so, The Mean Machine beat the defending 4A champion, Tahoma.
Camas sophomore Alexis Efraimson took first in 4A, running a 17:34 — second fastest only to Neale. Last year’s 4A champion, Mt. Rainier junior Jordan McPhee, finished in second in 18:10.