The Liberty Bell High School boys’ cross country team claimed its first state championship in more than 20 years, cruising to a convincing win at the state 1B/2B meet in Pasco on Saturday (Nov. 6).
Meanwhile, the Mountain Lion girls’ team — perennials on the podium — claimed another trophy with their second-place finish at Sun Willows Golf Course.
The boys, led by sophomore Will Halpin’s second-place finish, scored 50 points to second-place Pope John Paul II’s 96 points (in cross country, the lowest score wins).
It’s the second team championship for the Liberty Bell boys, the first coming in 1998 when the A and B class schools ran together. The Mountain Lion boys also claimed runner-up trophies over the years, the latest coming in 2017.
Liberty Bell and Pope John Paul II traded places at the top in the girls’ race, with the team from Lacey taking first place with 46 points while Liberty Bell scored 59.
The Liberty Bell girls, on the strength of sophomore Leki Albright’s second-place finish, raced to their second consecutive runner-up trophy and fifth straight top-two finish at state. The girls placed second in 2019 and won the championship in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In the boys’ competition, Halpin and Ilwaco’s Daniel Quintana took charge early, extending their lead over a second pack of runners by almost 20 seconds at 2 miles. The two traded the lead several times before Quintana opened up a bit of a gap going up “Heartbreak Hill” in the final half-mile of the race, eventually beating Halpin to the individual trophy by about 6 seconds.
“It was good,” Halpin said of his race. “I’m just happy the whole team ran well.”
Halpin found himself running alone at some of the smaller, late-season meets and seemed to respond well to having Quintana at the front. Indeed, Halpin’s time of 16:36 was his second-fastest time of the season on a 5-kilometer course.
Liberty Bell Junior Carter Sheley toured the course in 17:31, only two seconds off of his personal best, and finished as the second Liberty Bell runner in 16th place, with junior Isaiah Stoothoff (17:35) close on his heels in 17th place. Carter’s twin brother Graham Sheley was also close, placing 19th at 17:43, and sophomore Aksel Thomson crossed the line at 17:52 in 23rd place to complete the Mountain Lion scoring team. The Schmekel twins, Jackson (42nd; 18:16) and Tristan (67th; 18:55) completed the full team.
“Carter did what worked for him at the Nike Twilight earlier this season,” said coach Erik Brooks. “He took the reins and brought the team along with him through the first 2 miles.”
Graham Sheley hadn’t been feeling well most of the week and only went through a light Wednesday workout, according to Brooks. “He was a little off all week with a cold that was tested as negative for COVID, and ran well, though. Isaiah was amazing, getting in the pack around 15th-17th place and staying there for the entire race, and Aksel had a good run, too.”
“We thought that we had a chance, on paper,” said Brooks. “Comparing times I thought if we could have our No. 2-5 runners get ahead of theirs, we’d be good. The kids really wanted it, and believed they could do it.”
Liberty placed all of its top five runners ahead of Pope John Paul II’s second runner, and that was the difference.
The boys’ team, all underclassmen, may have sent a message to the rest of the B schools to expect more of the same in the future. With early-season leader Dexter Delaney set to return as a sophomore after his freshman season-ending injury, and promising incoming freshman Bodie Thomson and several other possible young runners entering the high school program, the table may be set for a run similar to the girls’ championship streak from 2016-18.
Running her race
In the girls’ 1B/2B showdown, Asotin senior Chloe Overberg ran away from the pack at the start and won by more than a minute over Liberty Bell’s Albright, who ran her usual steady and consistent pace.
In the top four at both the 1- and 2-mile markers, Albright methodically and smoothly passed runners in front of her to finish by herself in second place behind Overberg.
Albright was counseled by Brooks ahead of the meet regarding the Asotin senior. “He said that she was going to take off and that I needed to focus on running my race,” Albright said in prerace comments the day after the District Qualifier. On Saturday, she agreed that the strategy worked out just fine.
“The girls ran amazingly well and took the opportunity to surprise a lot of people, including themselves,” said assistant coach Sarah Brooks. “Leki ran a steady race, didn’t let it get away from her and she was ready to make her move when the opportunity presented itself.”
Senior Jori Grialou, in her high school finale, ran consistent with her past state performances from 2019 and 2018, placing seventh individually. Sophomore Dashe McCabe, recovered from last week’s stomach malady at the District Qualifier, ran to an 11th-place overall finish. Senior Payten Kaufman saved her best for last, setting a high school career personal record for a 5K course by nearly 40 seconds in her only trip around the state championship course. Senior Ayeanna Ruprecht placed 42nd overall. It was her first true run at state, as she was an alternate on the 2019 state runner-up team. Sophomore Sandra Hernandez, running on a sore leg from the preceding week’s District Qualifier, overcame that struggle and placed 63rd. Freshman Zoe Kaltenbach was 65th in her first run at state.
“Considering we only had seven runners on our team this year, we did really well,” said Grialou. The girls were able to avoid the injury bug and keep all seven healthy and off the injury list for most of the year.
The field for the 1B/2B girls’ race was reduced back to eight teams this year as a result of reduced numbers in the girls’ ranks statewide. In 2019, when the last state championship was held, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) had increased the B allotments for girls to 12 after seeing a significant increase in participation and full scoring teams. Those numbers fell back to pre-2019 numbers and the decision was made by the WIAA to return to the eight-team field.