Nathan Hale boys outrunning expectations | Cross Country state meet
After winning their first Metro League title since 1995, the Raiders go into the state meet on Saturday ranked No. 2 and eager to test North Central's grip on the team crown.
Seattle Times staff reporter
WHAT TO WATCH FOR at the state championships Saturday in Pasco:
Joe Hardy: Seattle Prep junior placed fourth last year and is top returning 3A boys runner. He won Metro League race by 43 seconds while shattering a Lower Woodland Park course record, and took the district crown by 13.
4A's a crowd: Coach Gary Conner of fourth-ranked Tahoma believes at least six 4A teams can win. "It's going to be really close," he said. No SPSL team has won the big-classification title.
3A hopefuls: Second-ranked Nathan Hale, No. 4 Seattle Prep, No. 7 Oak Harbor, No. 8 Glacier Peak and No. 9 Bellevue have high rankings and high hopes.
Amy-Eloise Neale: Glacier Peak senior was 3A state champ in 2009 and 2010, runner-up last year to North Central's Katie Knight, who's also back.
Jordan McPhee: Mount Rainier junior was 4A state champ last year, but last week was a distant second at Westside Classic.
Chandler Olson: Woodinville senior, third in 4A last year, is coming off 24-second victory at district meet.
Back for more: Defending 4A team champ Tahoma is ranked No. 2 in state behind Camas.
Moving up: Interlake, third in 2A in 2011, moves up to 3A and is one of five team contenders from the Seattle area — top-ranked Glacier Peak, No. 4 Liberty, No. 6 Lakeside, No. 9 Bishop Blanchet and No. 10 Interlake.
Race schedule, course map, past champions at wiaa.com
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For the last seven years, Nathan Hale cross country coach Cary Stidham has taken his team to Camano Island for a weeklong retreat in July. And every year, starting with his second season at the school, the Raiders have ended the camp by setting goals.
"At first," Stidham said, "the goals were, 'Can we make it to state?' "
But before this season, with a core group of returning runners, those goals became more substantial: win the Salt Creek Invitational in Port Angeles, win the Metro League, finish in the top four at state.
They've accomplished the first two.
"We went into the season with lofty goals, but at this point we've overshot them," Stidham said.
The Raiders won their first Metro League title since 1995, when Stidham was the team's best runner, and are now shooting for at least a second-place finish at Saturday's state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
In fact, Hale hadn't finished better than third in the Metro League after that 1995 season, when Stidham was state runner-up. But last weekend, Hale outdueled a Seattle Prep team that received national attention in cross country circles before the season started.
Junior Andrew Foerder, Hale's No. 1 runner, finished second to Seattle Prep's Joe Hardy at the Metro race. Foerder set a school record with a time of 15 minutes, 50.94 seconds at Lower Woodland Park and should contend for a top-five finish at state.
"He's prospered into one of the better runners in the state," Stidham said.
His good friend and teammate, junior Max Leach, crossed the finish line just four seconds later to grab third at the Metro meet. Sophomore Stuart Smith finished sixth, junior Abebe Ferede came in seventh and Natan Lee-Engel, the team's lone senior whom Stidham calls an anchor, rounded out Hale's top five by coming in 12th.
"This year's it's all kind of come together for us," Stidham said.
Stidham's group started to come together three years ago, when three of his top five runners were freshmen and Lee-Engel, a sophomore, was the team's No. 1 guy.
Stidham said none of his boys arrived at the school having run cross country before, but they dedicated themselves and improved each year. At the state meet last year, Hale took seventh behind Foerder's 20th-place finish.
Hale's biggest challenge at state is North Central, the six-time defending state champ from Spokane. Other title threats are Seattle Prep, led by Hardy, and Kamiakin, which beat Hale earlier this year.
"It seemed like we weren't expected to do well before," Foerder said. "Now it's definitely different. Because we've been progressively doing better every year we've been here, a lot more people have joined our team."