Many of the cross country runners at Bainbridge High can’t remember the last time they earned a berth at the Washington State Championships.
One can’t hardly blame the boys, though. Most of them weren’t even born yet.
The Spartan runners are going to Pasco this weekend as a boys team for the first time since 1995. Bainbridge earned a shot at state by winning fourth place at the District 2 3A Championship at Woodland Park in Seattle last week.
The Bainbridge girls varsity team finished their season by taking ninth place, with junior Signe Lindquist qualifying for the state meet as an individual.
Seniors Tyler Cox and Tomás Delgado, both team captains, led the pack of Spartans together, coming in at 16:28:57 on the 5,000-meter course.
Close behind for Bainbridge were freshman Ryan Cox at 16:30, senior Davin Fitzgerald (17:08), juniors Nick Entress (17:09) and Thomas Daniels (17:13), followed by senior and fellow team captain Brendan Willerford at 17:23.
The Spartans said they were excited with their fantastic finish at districts and the chance to compete with the state’s best. The state championship races begin Saturday, Nov. 3.
It was a long time coming, they said, but well-deserved.
“I’ve run cross country for three years, a lot of people have run cross country for four years, and I know the first year we were last in the district meet, dead last,” Cox recalled. “To be able to come so far in four years, and be able to say, that was our class, our team, that made that happen, is something that’s really cool.”
Lindquist, the sole girl Spartan to qualify, is making her third trip back to Pasco.
“I’m just really excited to run, and am looking to get a (personal record) at the state meet,” she said.
“It’s exciting that the guys are going along, too,” Lindquist added. “It’s inspiring how hard they’ve worked.”
The top 25 finishers in each gender qualified for the state meet as individuals.
Lindquist finished in 18th place with a time of 19:53.
Spartans clocking in behind Lindquist included sophomore Lindsay Wienkers (21:12), junior Alison Wise (21:22), sophomore Morgan Blevins (21:25), freshman Malena Delgado (21:27), senior Anna Misenti (21:50), and junior Ivy Terry (22:44).
But winning at the district level was no small feat.
“Woodland Park has a very rough second mile,” Willerford said. “It’s really tough to keep your speed up.”
“It’s an incredibly large amount of net uphill,” he explained. “There’s some steep, steep hills right at the end of the second mile. And it’s really tough to keep your pace up, going up and down the hills.”
“You really have to have a lot of mental focus to keep going, to stick with the guys you want to stick with and at the pace you want. Once you get past two miles, it’s really a lot harder to pass people on the downhill. That’s when I think a lot of us made our moves in the races — we’ve been practicing that all year.”
“The toughest part of the race for me was probably the first mile,” Delgado recalled.
“I started off kind of fast; faster than I like to start out.
“The last 800 of the first mile, I was being passed by most people. And one of the teams we had to beat, Bishop Blanchet, all seven of their guys were in front of me at the end of the first mile.”
It was especially hurtful because Bainbridge had Bishop Blanchet pegged as the ones to beat. Besting the Braves would have meant beating a boys team that’s qualified for the state meet for 35 years in a row.
“I was pretty worried at that point, that the [Bishop Blanchet] team was really good and we would not have enough to beat them,” Delgado said. “Luckily, they went out too fast. Half their team went out too fast.”
Then came the Bainbridge boys, winning at the end.
“The strategy for districts was to stay a little conservative for the first mile, so that we could really push the second mile and really move up in the pack and pass people,” Willerford said. “It’s really demoralizing when someone passes you and you are working hard.”
The Spartans edged the Braves by 18 points, a rousing redemption from their razor-thin loss at the Metro League meet.
Other standouts at the district meet included senior Ford Eimon, the first Spartan to finish in the boys’ Junior Varsity/Open category, who finished 13th; and freshman Julia Denlinger, who came in fourth for the girls.
“Of the 82 runners competing for Bainbridge, we had 54 personal best times and six season best times. What a great way to finish the season,” said Spartan Coach Anne Howard Lindquist.
“The amount of improvement we’ve had as a team over the course of the season illustrates how the support they show for each other before, during and after the races. (It) really points out and emphasizes how much of a team sport this really is,” she said.
Girls’ team captain Sam Scott was also proud of the Spartans’ success.
“I can say that I haven’t ever felt more proud to wear my Bainbridge singlet than I did at this meet. Our program has grown immensely over the past four years, and it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of it,” Scott said.
In Pasco, the team will face a course much different than the one they encountered in district competition. There will be fewer hills, for a start.
The runners have been practicing this week with short-distance drills, and lighter workouts.
“We’re trying to keep our legs well-rested so that we’re feeling really strong when we are going up to race,” Willerford said.
The Spartans hope to make it to the awards stand in Pasco, which will mean finishing in the top eight or better.
The team doesn’t need much in the way of motivation, the runners said.
“Everybody on the team has worked three, four years pretty much to get to this state meet,” said Tyler Cox.
“To have a three or four years of built-up waiting for this to happen, to compete against these teams, that’s enough motivation in and of itself,” he said.
Delgado said he was also looking to put on a show for those who had only ranked the Spartan team at No. 13, despite their earlier wins against higher ranked squads.
“Our goal is to be top 10,” he said.