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For the first time in four years, the 3A girls cross country state championship title is truly up for grabs.

But if Glacier Peak has anything to say about it, that title is staying in the family.

The Grizzlies lost two members of that family to graduation after last season — and not just any members. The guardians, the breadwinners: Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Bianchini.

Neale and Bianchini led Glacier Peak to two state championships (2010, 2012) and two second-place finishes (2009, 2011), with Neale winning the individual title in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

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“I think that’s what they set out to do,” coach Dan Parker said of Neale and Bianchini’s legacy. “They were the ones who established the tradition (of winning).”

The pair’s absence could open things up at the state championships Nov. 9 in Pasco.

Still, the Glacier Peak girls are set on proving they can win without Neale and Bianchini. The Grizzlies are ranked No. 1 in the state in 3A in the coaches poll.

Senior captains Megan Davis, Samantha Northrop and Mikayla Ingram will try to keep the legacy alive.

It’s been a transition running without Neale and Bianchini, though.

“At first, it was a little strange because we got used to having a security blanket,” Davis said.

Davis added that she thinks it’s cool that, for one year, they have to take it into their own hands to win.

Northrop agreed, but said there’s a different feeling now that she’s taken on a leadership role.

“Going into our senior year, I think for me personally, it’s a whole different perspective because we’re used to following Amy and Katie, and now we’re leading the team,” Northrop said.

Davis wants to win, and she makes sure the others want it just as badly. Part of what Neale and Bianchini left behind was the emphasis on being good teammates, even in an individual-based sport.

Northrop said that winning state again this year is going to be a lot more difficult — not that she’s backing down from the challenge.

“We’ve worked so hard to get that reputation,” Northrop said. “We need to show we can hold our own without Amy or Katie.”

Helping in that goal will be a fresh face — freshman Heidi Smith, who has been the team’s fastest runner.

After the seniors realized Smith could run right with them, it was easy to accept their young teammate as the future of Glacier Peak cross country.

“It’s really great to know that after we leave, there’s more coming,” Davis said.

It took getting beat by Smith for Northrop to see it the same way.

“After she beat us the first time, it was nice to get it over with,” Northrop said with a laugh. “She’s faster than us, at least for now.”

One thing is certain: The Grizzlies can rest assured their tradition isn’t in danger just yet.

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