After winning their first Metro League title since 1995, the Raiders go into the state meet on Saturday ranked No. 2 and eager to test North Central's grip on the team crown.
For the last seven years, Nathan Hale cross country coach Cary Stidham has taken his team to Camano Island for a weeklong retreat in July. And every year, starting with his second season at the school, the Raiders have ended the camp by setting goals.
“At first,” Stidham said, “the goals were, ‘Can we make it to state?’ “
But before this season, with a core group of returning runners, those goals became more substantial: win the Salt Creek Invitational in Port Angeles, win the Metro League, finish in the top four at state.
They’ve accomplished the first two.
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“We went into the season with lofty goals, but at this point we’ve overshot them,” Stidham said.
The Raiders won their first Metro League title since 1995, when Stidham was the team’s best runner, and are now shooting for at least a second-place finish at Saturday’s state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
In fact, Hale hadn’t finished better than third in the Metro League after that 1995 season, when Stidham was state runner-up. But last weekend, Hale outdueled a Seattle Prep team that received national attention in cross country circles before the season started.
Junior Andrew Foerder, Hale’s No. 1 runner, finished second to Seattle Prep’s Joe Hardy at the Metro race. Foerder set a school record with a time of 15 minutes, 50.94 seconds at Lower Woodland Park and should contend for a top-five finish at state.
“He’s prospered into one of the better runners in the state,” Stidham said.
His good friend and teammate, junior Max Leach, crossed the finish line just four seconds later to grab third at the Metro meet. Sophomore Stuart Smith finished sixth, junior Abebe Ferede came in seventh and Natan Lee-Engel, the team’s lone senior whom Stidham calls an anchor, rounded out Hale’s top five by coming in 12th.
“This year’s it’s all kind of come together for us,” Stidham said.
Stidham’s group started to come together three years ago, when three of his top five runners were freshmen and Lee-Engel, a sophomore, was the team’s No. 1 guy.
Stidham said none of his boys arrived at the school having run cross country before, but they dedicated themselves and improved each year. At the state meet last year, Hale took seventh behind Foerder’s 20th-place finish.
Hale’s biggest challenge at state is North Central, the six-time defending state champ from Spokane. Other title threats are Seattle Prep, led by Hardy, and Kamiakin, which beat Hale earlier this year.
“It seemed like we weren’t expected to do well before,” Foerder said. “Now it’s definitely different. Because we’ve been progressively doing better every year we’ve been here, a lot more people have joined our team.”