There are sky-high hopes in the Waitsburg-Prescott cross country family headed into Saturday's Washington State Cross Country Championships at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
And for good reason.
W-P junior Seth Deal is headed back to Pasco for his third state meet, having finished fourth last year and 21st as a freshman.
Deal already has a District 9 2B title under his belt this season after winning the 5,000-meter race in 16:21 in Clarkston last week.
And this year, Deal has his sights set on a state championship.
"To have somebody in this position - I can't wait," W-P coach Joanna Lanning said. "He's pumped up and ready to go. He's excited about it.
"I think he's going to be right there," she said of Deal's title chances. "There are variables, but he's in an excellent position."
Deal's previous experience at the state meet on the Sun Willows race course is an advantage on a couple fronts, Lanning feels.
"He has a good idea where he'll make his move," Lanning said of the course. "If they're all packed together, he knows what they've got, how much kick somebody's got. He knows exactly who he's going to be watching, he's going in with a game plan, and he knows who will be gunning for him. He knows where they'll be in the race and what he'll have to do. He knows when to make his move."
And having the race in Pasco means "we don't have to travel," she said. "We can sleep in our own beds."
Deal also knows his competition.
Lanning said Northwest Christian-Lacey senior Lucas Graham, the fifth-place finisher at last year's meet, and Asotin senior Chase Teigen, whom Deal edged for the District title last week, are on Deal's radar as top competitors at State - although anything can happen.
"There could be a darkhorse that is just coming on," Lanning said. "You also have to factor in that somebody could have have a super-good day. We just have to hope."
But Deal does have a psychological advantage over Teigen, for one.
"He (Teigen) was visibly disappointed at the District meet when he took second to Seth," Lanning said.
And Deal's preparation is unmatched in Lanning's eight years with the W-P cross country program, she said.
"Seth's careful," she said. "He's definitely the most serious runner I've had. He watches his diet. The entire team made a pact to not drink soda pop during the season, and Seth is extra careful with everything. He'll have everything he can to his advantage. It might be that little thing that gets that extra second.
"It'll definitely be my most exciting State race."
Opposite of Deal's serious demeanor is W-P teammate E.J. Meserve, who is making his second trip to the State meet after finishing 95th last year as a freshman.
Meserve brings a looser attitude to the field before his competitive side emerges on the race course, Lanning said.
"E.J. and Seth are at two ends of the spectrum, personality-wise, but they mesh," Lanning said. "He balances out Seth's seriousness. But E.J. is just as deadly serious (on the course).
Meserve could be peaking at the right time, coming off a bout of bronchitis over the summer.
"I'm really excited for him," Lanning said. "He's coming into his own at the right time. And he loves cool weather."
Overall, Lanning has thoroughly enjoyed this season with the entire W-P cross country program.
"It's just been a great season, with great kids," she said. "I can't wait for Saturday."
Deal and Meserve's 2B boys race is slated for 11:30 a.m.
They'll be joined by Pomeroy's Bryan McGreevy individually and the entire Pirate boys team.
"I have a very inexperienced team headed for state," Pomeroy coach Marcus Pederson said. "Bryan is a freshman who has never done cross country before this year, along with two others.
"Also, NONE of them have ever participated in any State contest in high school, so they are almost beside themselves with excitement," Pederson said.
"We are all hoping for good weather, though it seems as if it will be quite cool and wet - bummer!"
Walla Walla Valley Academy's Jessica Arnzen is also running in the girls 2B race at 10 a.m.
And Wa-Hi has a trio of runners in the Class 4A races, with J.P. Wolpert taking part in the boys race at 2:30 p.m., and Rachel Nelson and Hannah Hampson in the girls race at 1 p.m.
The Blue Devil girls team will also accept its second straight Washington Class 4A academic championship award at 10:20 a.m. Saturday.
Wolpert finished 13th last season as a junior.
"J.P. looks to compete well and in the top 10 at the state meet," Wa-Hi coach Mike Locati said. "He comes off a strong performance at Regionals and is confident he can repeat last week's effort.
"Training has gone well," he said. "Training times are really beginning to be easy for him right now, which is a good thing because it shows that he is adapting to the paces and we should see them in the race."
Nelson finished 10th last year as a sophomore and also competed at State as a freshman.
"Rachel will take her experience and use it well this weekend," Locati said. "She knows what she is capable of and her workouts have been really good, at levels higher than she has been racing at.
"This weekend, I am confident that it will all come together for her," he said. "She has the potential to really break out and have an awesome race. I would like to see her also in the top 10."
Hampson is making her first trip to State after finishing 14th at the Regional meet.
"Hannah, being new to the State scene, will be a little more nervous," Locati said. "But based upon the way she has competed all year and how her training has gone, I anticipate she will still run very strong. We always emphasize that it's still just another race, just like you have been running all year.
"Their training this week has focused on keeping legs fresh while still maintaining intensity," Locati said of the Blue Devil trio. "The mental aspect at this time is more of a factor than the training. These kids have put in a lot of time over the last year, and now it really comes down to maintaining that mental focus.
"This week we were able to discuss with all the runners how they would attempt to run the race - what would be the best strategy for their running style, what to be careful of and where to attack and really push on the course," he said.
And Washington harriers won't be the only runners on State race courses Saturday. In Oregon, Mac-Hi's Kristi Childers, Maria Esparza, Josie Lonai, Jackie Martinez and Maria Saldana are in the Oregon Class 4A race at Lane Community College in Eugene.