Wa-Hi's Aaron Nelson runs to third at state cross country championship

J.P. Wolpert finishes 13th and Rachel Nelson takes 16th for the Blue Devils.



In the middle of a sea of runners from around the state, lone Wa-Hi girls cross-country runner Rachel Nelson makes room for herself as she crests the first hill just off the starting line during the girls 4A state championship cross-country race Saturday morning in Pasco.

PASCO - Wa-Hi's Aaron Nelson ran to a third-place finish at Sun Willows Golf Course in the State 4A boys cross country championship Saturday.

Nelson's finish was the best ever for Wa-Hi cross country, said coach Mike Locati.

Fellow Blue Devil J.P. Wolpert wasn't far behind, crossing the finish line in 13th.

"Those two boys ran a heck of a race today," Locati said. "Third place and 13th, they've got to be smiling. I'm smiling. It's great that they both had the race they had."

Nelson ran the 5,000 meter course in 15:31 and was with the leaders until the very end. Lewis and Clark's Kenji Bierig took the lead coming up the last hill before the finish and found an extra gear. Bierig sprinted away from Nelson and Mead's Andrew Gardner to win the 4A title in 15:09. Gardner was second in 15:27.

"That race between those three boys in the front was only decided in the last 600 meters," Locati said. "All three of them absolutely let it out."

For Nelson, the winner showed an impressive kick.

"The Lewis and Clark kid (Bierig) had a phenomenal race," he said. "He has the fastest kick. If he is anywhere near you, up to the 400, he still has a chance to win."

Nelson was in a pack of nine runners at the lead through the first mile.

"At the mile mark, it doesn't really matter where you are as long as you're within a few seconds," Nelson said. "I was content there and relaxed. As the race goes on, you have to work a little bit to get back up to the leaders."

At the 2.5 mile mark, Nelson had pulled into second with Gardner holding the lead.

Bierig overtook both Gardner and Nelson in the home stretch to claim the title and Nelson settled for third.

"My race pace was pretty good," the senior said of his last cross country run as a Blue Devil. "The time wasn't as fast as I was expecting, but that wasn't what it was about today. It wasn't my best race. I could tell by the way I felt. You've got to go out there and work hard and make it a good race."

Best race or not, his coach was happy.

"Aaron has worked so hard this year," Locati said. "To come from last year, falling and finishing 20th, to turn around and finish third in state, I don't care who you are, that's good."

Wolpert was around 20th place through the first mile, and moved up over the last half of the course to take home 13th in 15:54.

"I wasn't expecting that (13th)," said Wolpert, a junior. "I give all the glory to God. It was mental toughness (that made the difference). I made a move and gave it all I had."

"You can't sluff that at all," Locati said of Wolpert's 13th. "That was a quality time and a quality run."

On the girls side, Rachel Nelson trimmed six seconds off her 2009 state time and came home 16th in a faster race than the 2009 version.

The 2009 champion, Garfield's Anna Dailey, won in 17:58. Inglemoor's Tansey Lystad led from wire to wire and took the 2010 title in 17:44.

"To come back here with some expectations and run faster (than 2009), you have to come away pleased," Locati said. "The overall girls field was faster and more competitive. Last year she (Rachel Nelson) got 11th, and was faster this year and got 16th. Our goal for her was to continue to make it in the top 20, and continue to pick it up as things go."

Nelson ran in a pack trailing pace setters, Lystad and Eastlake's Anastasia Kosykh, who finished second in 17:50, and finished behind year-long nemesis Ike's Mayra Chavez (11th) and Berenice Penaloza (15th), but was faster than 2009. Rachel Nelson ran 18:56 in 2009 and the sophomore turned an 18:50 here Saturday for 16th.

"I felt pretty strong and went out pretty fast," Nelson said. "I tried to stay relaxed and stay in there. I just tried to battle at the end. It was tough, but it was good competition at the end. They (Chavez and Penaloza) both beat me, but I put a tough fight with the second one (Penaloza), I almost caught her at the end, but she just had that little extra kick.

"I'm really happy to PR on this course by six seconds," she continued. "I had a tough cross country season and wanted to end it well."

She did, Locati said.

"She's a steady contender and steady runner," Locati said. "She has nerves of steel and did great."

Eisenhower captured both the boys and girls team titles. The Cadet girls squeaked out a 110-116 victory over Eastlake. The Ike boys ended a run of 12 consecutive boys titles won by a Spokane school, with a 73-82 win over Lewis and Clark.

The beat goes on for the Wa-Hi trio as both Nelsons compete this weekend in the Nike Regionals in Boise and Wolpert starts training for the spring track season.


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