In the early going, there was some stress for the Riverhawks head cross country coach Wednesday at the Region 11 championship held at Steve & Donna Reeder Course on the campus of Utah State.
Mary Kirby encouraged her girls to move up and pass the runner in front of them. The veteran coach pointed out a “group of white” that would determine the race. That group was made up of Ridgeline and Bear River runners.
In the end, Kirby didn’t need to stress that much. The Riverhawks did move up and finished strong to capture another region title.
“I have a lot of girls that start out slow and finish fast and scare me to death,” Kirby said. “They have done that every race, all year long. I should know better, know they are going to do that and not freak out.”
Yes, there was no reason to freak out. Ridgeline had five girls finish among the top 11 to finish with 36 points. Bear River did take second with 51.
“The team did great and ran well,” said Lexi Patrick, who was the top Riverhawk finisher in third.
“Lexi did exactly what she had planned to do as far as the race plan,” Kirby said. “She did everything she could and did awesome. She ran an amazing race.
Mountain Crest’s Abbie Case wrapped up a stellar region season by winning the race with a strong finish and passing several girls over the last half mile. The senior covered the 5K course in 18 minutes, 53.3 seconds, which was a PR for her on the course.
“It hasn’t sunk in that I’m the region champ,” Case said. “I think it will feel good. I think I will be driving home and then it will be ‘oh wow, that was pretty good.’”
Green Canyon finished third in the team standings with 69 points. The Wolves were followed by Mountain Crest (94), Sky View (107) and Logan (157).
It was the fifth title for Ridgeline in the six-year history of the school.
Patrick set the pace early. Bear River’s Elizabeth Phillips joined the Riverhawk.
“I have tried a couple of strategies and I know my best chance for placing high is to just go out and gain distance,” Patrick said. “Although I have a good kick, obviously the other two (Case and Katie Latvakoski) are better.”
Case, Green Canyon’s Katie Latvakoski and Ridgeline’s Sydnee Walton were in a chase group not far behind the leaders.
“I feel bad because I kind of kept hitting Katie’s elbows,” Case said. “I’m pretty sure she has a bruise now.”
“My plan was to stick with Abbie and keep my pace good,” Latvakoski said. “Dude, she (Case) is insane. She is amazing and just running with her helps me push myself.”
At the halfway point, Patrick was able to drop the Bear and was in the lead by herself.
“I knew Bear River was the team to look out for as a team,” Patrick said. “I decided to try and break her (Phillips) early by slowing down and then speeding up.”
The trio of Case, Latvakoski and Walton passed the Bear River runner and stayed within five seconds of Patrick.
“I was worried because the pack was so big for two or so miles,” Case said. “... I wanted to do what I’ve been doing and that is come from behind a little bit, but they set a pretty good pace early on.”
Case made her move with about half a mile to go on a downhill portion of the course. The Mustang was followed by Latvakoski.
“Once I got to the downhill part near the end, I just kind of let gravity work,” Case said. “I didn’t want to let them get too far ahead. I was feeling it.”
Once Case got in front, she put the hammer down. Latvakoski finished second in 18:56.8, followed by Patrick (19:01.9) and Walton (19:11.8).
“Once I got in front, I knew I could sprint and hold it,” Case said. “I was really happy to PR and break 19.”
“It felt amazing,” Latvakoski said. “... It’s been an up and down year. I’ve had a couple of injuries and some off days. I just really wanted to do this race right.”
Patrick praised her Mustang competitor.
“Abbie has been amazing,” Patrick said. “She has put in so much work. I really look forward to racing against her in track. ... I was hoping to gain some distance on the uphill, but they (Case and Latvakoski) are so strong on the downhill. They also have amazing kicks. ... Sydnee did amazing. She has been amazing all year.”
While Patrick slipped to third, she was still extremely happy. She was even more thrilled at how her teammates did. Joining her and Walton in the top 10 were Brynlee Brown (8th, 19:50.0) and Mackenzie Hansen (10th, 20:10.2). Madeline Sonntag was just out of the top 10, finishing 11th in 20:18.4 to give the Riverhawks their fifth finisher. The top five of seven runners count toward the team score.
“Sydnee has had a very good year for us and been our No. 2 runner all year,” Kirby said. “She has done a great job.”
Bear River had three girls in the top nine and five in the top 16.
“The Ridgeline girls ran so good; they were rock solid,” Bears head coach Dan Line said. “We had a couple of girls have good races and some not so good. That wasn’t going to beat the Ridgeline girls today.”
Now the Riverhawks turn their attention to the 4A state meet next week at the Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City.
“I feel we should be at least top three,” Kirby said. “We have been third two years in a row. ... Hopefully they will have the race of their lives and run awesome. It’s hard at state. We would be ecstatic for a second-place trophy.”
Case and Latvakoski are also looking forward to competing at state.
“I’m excited to run on the course at state,” Case said. “I’m hoping for top 10 or maybe even top five.”
“I think state is going to be great,” Latvakoski said. “The course is flatter than this and faster.
Ridgeline also won the junior varsity region title with 27 points to runner-up Green Canyon’s 54. Riverhawk sophomore Charlotte Pignataro won the race in 21:23.0.