Special to the Seattle Times
PASCO — As Seattle Prep’s Joe Hardy crossed the finish line at Sun Willows Golf Course Saturday, he had to wait 13 seconds to the give second-place finisher, Mt. Spokane sophomore John Dressel, a handshake.
Waiting around for number two is nothing new to Hardy. Coming into the Class 3A state cross-country championship, he shattered his competition in both the Metro League and Sea-King 3A district championships.
He ran the 3.1-mile Sun Willows course in 15 minutes, 18 seconds, beating his 2011 time by three seconds. Dressel ran it in 15:31.
“It feels good,” Hardy said. “I’d like to improve more, but the conditions weren’t perfect. I feel good, though.”
But something was missing, Hardy said.
Not out of arrogance, but respect for competition, Hardy noted that the championship wasn’t the same without North Central of Spokane junior Kai Wilmot.
Wilmot was scratched from the race because of a lingering Iliotibial band injury. The decision to sit him during Saturday may free him up to be healthy for Regionals.
“It just didn’t feel the same,” Hardy said of Wilmot’s absence. “He’s been my competition this entire year. He’s been my favorite person to run against and it’s always fun to run against him. It’s always a big challenge.”
Hardy didn’t know that Wilmot wasn’t running Saturday until moments before the race started. Once he found out, his strategy changed.
“When I heard [Wilmot] wasn’t running I just went for it and took it from the start,” Hardy said.
Last year, Hardy finished fourth in state and Wilmot came in eighth. The top three runners from the 2011 3A championship all graduated, leaving Hardy as the top returner.
And without the perception of competition that Wilmot would have provided, Hardy felt like his job was easier.
“I can say it felt like my race because he wasn’t here,” Hardy said.
North Central coach Jon Knight obviously wanted his best runner to square off with Hardy.
“We tried to get him ready and we just couldn’t get him there,” he said of Wilmot. “So we had to pull him back.”
Hardy’s individual effort wouldn’t be enough to get the Panthers the championship, though. That distinction belonged to the Wilmot-less Indians.
The 3A title that North Central won Saturday was its seventh consecutive.
The Indians had seven runners place in the top 20, highlighted by junior Oliver Reed’s seventh place finish. They had just 38 points, with the next closest being Kamiakin with 75.
“The kids really came through and ran great,” Knight said. “We had some real breakthroughs.”
During the awards ceremony, teams and individuals went up to claim their trophies and medals and take photos. What was different about North Central was that, in addition to the runners and coaches, everyone from the community who made the trip went up.
“It’s kind of a point of pride, something to rally around,” Knight said. “The kids really feel like they’re not just running for themselves. They’re running for the community, and so that’s what we really just emphasized and focused on the last few days.”
With so much success every year, it would seem that it has become expected. But that’s not the kind of pressure Knight puts on his teams.
“Each team is a team in and of itself,” he said. “We don’t put the burden on them of ‘you have to do like the past’, because you’re not. You are your own team.”
Class 2A was dominated by the city of Bellingham — Sehome of Bellingham took first place with 81 points, while Bellingham came in second (93), Squalicum of Bellingham in third (103). The Mariners have won three titles in the last five years.
Senior Patrick Gibson from Squalicum of Bellingham repeated as the 2A champion. Saturday, he ran the Sun Willows course in 15:13, beating his 2011 time of 15:28.
Central Valley of Spokane won the Class 4A championship with 89 points.
Gig Harbor had two runners finish in the top 10 in 4A — Wolfgang Beck finished second (15:16) and Logan Carroll (15:38) seventh. But the Tides’ title defense finished short as they came in third place.
Mead of Spokane senior Andrew Gardner ran the fastest time of the day, finishing the 4A race in 15:02.
Senior Dillon Quintana of Mt. Baker won the 1A championship with a time of 15:50.