RICHLAND — The Walla Walla High School girls cross country team raced to the Mid-Columbia Conference district championship at Leslie Grove Park here Thursday afternoon.
The district victory follows last week’s co-championship finish with Kamiakin for the MCC title.
The Blue Devil boys narrowly missed repeating as district champions, with Richland edging them by a point for title honors. The Bombers came in with 29 points, Wa-Hi had 30, Chiawana 91 and Pasco 101.
In the girls race, Courtney Cox’s second-place finish led five Blue Devil harriers to top-7 finishes.
“Today, the girls team ran away from the rest of the field in a decisive victory,” Wa-Hi coach Michael Locati said of the Blue Devils’ victory.
Wa-Hi’s girls finished with 24 points, with Richland next at 35 and Chiawana 77.
Cox finished second in 19:02.4 on the 5-kilometer course. Richland’s Lindsey Bradley won in 18:28.7.
Blue Devils Catherine Feistner (fourth, 20:11.2), Hannah Hampson (fifth, 20:13.2), Erika Leinweber (sixth, 20:14.8) and Lea Davidson (seventh, 20:17.9) rounded out the top seven finishers.
“I am so happy for these girls,” Locati said. “We have been chasing Richland over the last few years. Richland has been one of the top teams in the state with some incredible runners. These girls (the Blue Devils) have watched them (Richland) and have been in their shadows, but they have emerged now as front runners of their own.”
Jenny Wall came in ninth for Wa-Hi in 21:16.7, and Talyah Nelson was 12th in 22:05.2.
“Right from the start it was Lindsey Bradley and Courtney Cox who pulled away early, and then our girls packed it in,” Locati said of the race. “By the first mile we had established a hold on the rest of the field.
“Hannah Hampson did a lot of the work pulling the rest of the group for the first two miles and you have to give her credit because it takes a lot out of you,” he said. “With Lea Davidson, Erika Leinweber and Catherine Feistner following along, it was eventually Feistner that led them in the charge home.
“How do you single out anyone of them?” he asked. “They all ran great. All I was thinking as they were finishing the last part of the race was ,“Wow, this is pretty special!”
As for the district championship, Locati was effusive with praise.
“We have watched over the last couple of weeks their confidence grow with each practice and race,” he said. “Their belief in themselves and each other is their strength. You can see it while they race. To have this pack of girls running with and for each other is awesome to watch.
“There is no one person that is making this happen for them,” he said. “They all are contributing to the success of this team equally.”
On the boys side, Juan Cortez’s second-place finish led the way, with Isaac Mata right on his heels.
Richland’s Michael Williams won in 15:45.0, followed by Cortez’s 16:46.0 and Mata’s 16:49.5.
Blue Devil Alex Iben came in fifth in 16:54.1, Micah Wilwand was ninth in 17:34.9, followed by Michael Anderson (11th, 17:42.0), Jacob Leinweber (13th, 17:47.4) and Dan Butler (15th, 18:06.1).
“It was a great race by our boys,” Locati said. “Richland got out to a quick lead, having all five runners ahead of our No. 2 runner. But as the race progressed the Blue Devil boys were beginning to slowly close the gap.
“By the end of the second mile we were moving along well and put ourselves into shooting distance,” he said. “The third mile was the key for us. Our boys really did a great job of pushing through and giving us a shot at winning. Juan Cortez had put a gap on Richland’s No. 2, and Isaac Mata and Alex Iben were closing in. Eventually Mata was able to overtake their No. 2, giving us second, third and fifth places. We just ran out of real estate with the rest of the guys.
“They all had closed the gap really well, but just fell short,” Locati said. “Our No. 4 and 5 runners were only a couple seconds away from overtaking the other Richland runners, but it was a little too much, too late to overcome. Given a little more time, I truly believe we would have got them.
“No matter the results, these guys really made me proud.”
Wa-Hi next heads to the District 5/8 Regional Championships at Wandermere Golf Course in Spokane on Nov. 2.