When runners took off Thursday at Onalaska for a 2B regular cross country meet, Mountaineers head boys coach Rob Henry wasn’t sure what to expect. His eight runners had prepared for months leading …
When runners took off Thursday at Onalaska for a 2B regular cross country meet, Mountaineers head boys coach Rob Henry wasn’t sure what to expect.
His eight runners had prepared for months leading up to the start of the February cross country season, but the result could have been disappointing given the nature of the sport and runners coming off the longest offseason in state history.
He was happy with the results.
Rainier juniors Dylan Davis and Ryan Doidge clinched the first- and second-place spots ahead of other Morton-White Pass and Mossyrock runners, and helped propel the team to a first-place finish against Onalaska, Morton-White Pass and Adna.
Selena Niemi, also a junior runner with the Mountaineers, dominated with a first-place finish on the girls’ side and was ahead by more than 2 minutes against the competition.
“They’re in better shape than I thought they were — a lot more than they showed in practice,” Henry said, recalling the meet. “I really didn’t know going in.”
Rainier’s cross country program will be led this year by a small and resilient group of high school juniors who should cause a ruckus in the Central 2B League, as well as at the district championship pending conference qualification.
COVID-19 has brought on its own challenges this year, but the Mountaineers’ sights are set high as they return a team with depth.
The Mountaineers lost a few notable seniors in Sophie Beadle and Tyler Barlass, but Doidge and Davis say they’re excited to step up and lead a younger class of runners during this shortened season.
Both are coming off a 2019 season where they saw injuries, but being back after so long without practice or competition has been refreshing. Even though there won’t be a state cross country meet at the conclusion of the season, both say they’ll take a strong regional performance in its place.
“It’s been encouragement, it’s been motivation, it’s been getting each other out here and also giving them purpose to run and improve each other,” Doidge said. “It’s all about getting the miles in while also working on our timing and rhythm.”
Davis and Niemi have run for Henry’s Mountaineers program since they were in middle school.
“He’s someone I can rely on, someone I can talk to,” Davis said.
“He’s very playful and understandable, but he will motivate you one way or another,” Doidge responded.
Both boys are currently running at around 18:30 in the 5-kilometer race, but voiced a drive to improve on that and dip into 17 minutes if possible this season. A 16-minute race would lead them individually into placing status at a state meet.
Their aspirations are largely in the team, though. Last season, the Mountaineers placed sixth at the district meet in Onalaska and narrowly missed an opportunity to compete as a team at Pasco.
While the boys’ thoughts have drifted toward next fall’s season — which quite possibly will feature a state meet in one form or another — the goal this winter is to make a top-five finish at districts and prove that they’re ready for fall.
Niemi’s fourth-place finish last year — a personal best 19:37 — helped propel the Lady Mountaineers to a qualifying finish at the district meet. The team then placed 11th at state, with Niemi taking the No. 12 spot.
That tenacity has translated well throughout the last year as she continues working out, her coaches say.
“She’s such a responsible, determined, hard-working kid that she just took that on herself and just took ownership of her own training. Where a kid would say, ‘eh, I don’t think I’ll do it today,’ she would never do that,” said head girls coach Karissa Beckman. “She would get up, put her mileage and do the extra that gets her where she’s at.”
There’s still some confidence despite the girls team losing four strong seniors who ran at state in 2019. But, like other teams in the conference, the Mountaineers will be taking some time to restore their athletes.
“This year, I would like to see some of the girls back to where they were last year. It’s a shorter season, so it’s tough,” Beckman said.
The Mountaineers will host multiple teams this Thursday, Feb. 25, at a home meet.
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