For the second straight year Bainbridge High School senior Sebastian Belkin took second place at the Washington State 3A Cross Country Championship in Pasco, once more following wins at both the Metro League Championship and at the SeaKing District Championship.
Despite the similarities, though, this year’s number-two finish at State was no mere replay of last year, team officials said.
This year featured an excitingly extended competition among a close group of well-matched runners from which the BHS boys team ultimately emerged eighth overall at the season’s big event.
The end was obviously a bit disappointing for Belkin and his teammates because first place was so close this time, and yet it was a race for them all to remember with pride, said BHS Assistant Coach Paul Benton.
“Sebastian ran a great race, steady and determined and aggressive in the last mile,” agreed Bainbridge Head Coach Anne Howard Lindquist. “I’m not sure any strategic move would have beaten [Johan] Correa [the 2018 state track 800-meter champ], who is really fit and fast.”
As a junior in 2017 Belkin out-sprinted Gig Harbor junior Bradley Peloquin and Kamiakin junior Ryan Child as they raced for second place, because their small pack was more than 30 seconds behind nationally-ranked Lincoln senior James Mwaura, who had surged far ahead early on.
This year, by contrast, a dense pack of 15 runners, with Belkin right in the middle, passed the 1-mile mark within two seconds (4:57-58), reportedly a comparatively moderate pace for the state meet.
Then, a group of four — Belkin, Peloquin, Child and Kennewick senior Correa — used short surges to move about 10 seconds ahead of the rest as they rounded the tight turns in the middle of the race, passing the 2-mile mark together at about 9:58.
About half way through Mile 3, Belkin made his move, Benton said, separating himself from Peloquin and Child by 10 or 15 meters.
But he did not fully realize that Correa was still just a step behind until they passed the 3-mile mark together in 14:58.
“If I’d paid more attention to Johan,” Belkin later told coaches, “I’d have probably started my kick earlier to try to gap him, because though I can sprint with Bradley and Ryan and know I can’t beat Johan in a 150.”
And he couldn’t.
Last year, Belkin took second in 15:22, 34 seconds behind the champ. This year, he ran 15:29 to Correa’s 15:26 — second again, but just three seconds away from winning the championship.
Regardless, Belkin’s second-place finish was nevertheless historic for Bainbridge High.
“Sebastian’s 15:29 this year is probably a more impressive time than last year’s 15:22,” Lindquist said. “It was in fact a major accomplishment, as well as a disappointment. No Bainbridge runner has ever run as fast at State, with Ryan Cox being closest (15:46 in 2015).
“No other Bainbridge harrier, boy or girl, as ever qualified for four state championships,” she added. “Only one other, 1994 star Chris Charles, has placed as high as second. And even Charles didn’t do that twice.”
The coach said the new course arrangement wasn’t doing any runner a favor, either.
“They had a new course setup this year, which was probably a little slower, with two smaller loops replacing one large one, making for better spectating at the expense of more tight corners and tough little hills,” she said.
Despite that, the boys team followed Belkin’s lead and again doubled their previous season’s success as well, once again qualifying for the state meet (as no Bainbridge XC team has done since the stellar girls squad of 1997-98) and again claiming eighth place in the 16-team field.
Six seniors returned to Pasco, including Belkin, Carlo Ruggiero, Nathan McVay, Elliott Windrope, Carter Hall and Sean Lindsey — most of whom have reportedly run together since middle school.
Buoyed by the emergence of sophomore Sean Westerhout, who was often this year’s number-two runner, the boys team had hoped to finish as high as fourth place if everyone peaked in this meet and set personal records as all did last year.
Unfortunately, it turned out that no one set a new mark, and only Belkin and McVay ran faster times than they did at the district meet a week earlier.
There were other admirable performances, however.
Ruggiero started well (5:08) and held his place to the end. Westerhout, McVay and Elliott all ran more conservative first miles (5:13-19), but then moved up 25 to 40 places before the finish.
In fact, this year’s eighth-place finish was actually stronger than last year’s, Benton said, in the sense that this team finished much closer to the teams just ahead of them.
In 2017, Bainbridge’s 221 points were 30 points behind Ballard (sixth place) and 21 behind Redmond (seventh).
This year, the Spartans’ 204 points were just seven points behind Blanchet (sixth place with 197) and only a single point behind Interlake (seventh).
Although they finished well behind Metro champion Lakeside (fifth, 152) and four powerhouse teams from the East and North — Kamiakin (first place), North Central (second), Arlington (third) and Edmonds-Woodway (fourth) — they nevertheless came tantalizingly close to seventh and even sixth place, and decisively beat Metro rivals Ballard (10th) and Franklin (11th).
And the big day wasn’t a boys’ club, either.
Junior Eva Entress, the only Bainbridge girl to qualify for state this year, ran a impressive race, coaches said, finishing 85th in the select field of 150 3A runners.
With patience and resilience, she moved up from 125th place at the first mile mark, passing 40 runners in the last two miles to finish in 20:51.
“Eva ran with such calm speed and just kept moving by people, even in the final sprint,” Lindquist said.
Though the official school season is now concluded, Belkin and a few of his fellow harriers will travel to Boise, Idaho next weekend for a multi-state Nike Regional Meet.
Belkin said he hopes to do well enough in the championship division to be invited to the Nike National Meet in Portland.
Meanwhile, he has already been invited to the “Border Clash” in Beaverton that pits top Washington and Oregon runners against each other.
Last year Mwaura, Belkin and Peloquin finished 1-2-3, respectively, beating the best Oregon had to offer.
It will be a tall order to repeat that accomplishment this year, Benton said, but the speediest Spartan has already proven that repeats are possible.