SPOKANE — Walla Walla High School’s girls cross country team is headed to state for the first time in almost two decades.
Courtney Cox was the lightning, leading the Blue Devils with a second-place finish, and the quartet of Hannah Hampson, Erika Leinweber, Catherine Feistner and Lea Davidson was the thunder, finishing 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th, respectively, to power Wa-Hi to a second-place finish overall and a trip to the Nov. 9 state cross country meet in Pasco.
“Our pack ran very well and held it together in the conditions and finished strong,” Wa-Hi coach Spencer Locati said. “When we told them they got second, the emotions went haywire. We had a flood of joyful tears.”
On the boys side, Wa-Hi’s Juan Cortez earned a state berth with a sixth place finish. The Blue Devils finished seventh in the team race as Central Valley and Richland earned the team tickets to state.
The Wa-Hi girls’ last appearance as a team at the state championships came in back-to-back years in 1983 and 1984. The Blue Devils, led by Randi Taruscio and Libby Tyson, won the title in 1983 and despite Taruscio’s individual title in 1984, the Blue Devils finished 13th.
With all five scoring runners in the top 20 Saturday at a wet Wandermere Golf Course, Wa-Hi easily outdistanced third-place Gonzaga Prep.
The top two teams and top 10 individuals earned tickets to the state meet. Central Valley, with five runners finishing in the top 14, claimed the girls team title with a score of 48.
“We’re identical to the Central Valley girls (Regional Champions),” Locati added. “They got out to a faster start than we did and we couldn’t close the gap. The girls are exuberant and we’re not done. We feel like we can be a top five team.”
Cox ran a 19:06 to finish behind to season-long nemesis Richland’s Lindsey Bradley, who won the race in 18:20.
“Courtney ran a great race,” Locati said. “The top three (Bradley, Cox, and Lewis and Clark’s Gracie Ledwith, 3rd in 19:29) were chasing each other. It was pretty much the top three and it stayed that way. The course was wet and windy but the times were pretty good. Bodes well for Courtney next week. A top 10 finish is a realistic goal for Courtney.”
Hampson led the Wa-Hi pack with a 15th in 20:27. Freshman Leinweber finished 16th, three seconds behind Hampson in 20:30. Feistner was next in 17th with a run of 20:38. Davidson capped the foursome, and completed Wa-Hi’s five team counting scores, with an 18th-place finish in 20:38.
“We learned from the girls race that the first part of the race was huge,” Locati said. “Juan was in the top pack after a mile. He was able to catch a lot of runners in difficult parts of the course. He had his best day of the year.”
On the boys side, Richland’s Michael Williams ran a 15:59 to win the race, but Cortez ran to a 16:39 to earn sixth and a state ticket.
Isaac Mata came in next for Wa-Hi, 18th in 17:08, followed by Jacob Leinweber, 33rd in 17:52, Alex Iben, 35th in 17:53, and Michael Anderson, 40th in 18:10.
“After racing hard the last couple of weeks, the boys weren’t as sharp today,” Locati said. “What we had coming into the year and what we had at the end was beyond all expectations.”
Jenny Wall, 32nd and Alicia Ojeda, 38th completed the Wa-Hi girls contingent. Dan Butler, 44th, and Micah Wilwand, 46th, capped the Blue Devil boys team.