Jerry Miller slowly surveyed Swarthout Field, which was packed with cross-country runners from across the state.
“It’s getting a bit crowded in here,” said Miller, Capital’s longtime boys cross-country coach. “We will have to make some adjustments next year.”
Miller, along with Capital girls cross-country coach Kevin Wright, has been constantly making improvements to the Capital Invitational the past two decades, turning it into one of the state’s premier early season cross-country meets.
The event celebrated its 20th running at Capital High School on Saturday.
“Three or four years before we held our first meet we took the team to an invite,” Wright said. “The course wasn’t very fun for
the runners. It just wasn’t a very good experience. So Jerry and I said, ‘Let’s do better.’ ”
Turnout for the event – about 1,120 runners from 33 high schools and 11 middle schools from around the state –is proof they’ve accomplished just that.
The unique 2.33-mile meet matches competitors against runners in their own grade.
“The atmosphere is always incredible here,” said Olympia junior Peter Kesting. “I’ve always liked the local aspect of this meet. You don’t always get to compete against the other schools during the season. It’s great coming here and getting the chance to run against them.”
Capital and Olympia hosted the event but weren’t the only local schools competing.
Tumwater, Black Hills, North Thurston, Timberline, Northwest Christian, Shelton, and – for the first time – River Ridge turned out, as well.
No participant had a stronger showing than Kesting, who captured the junior boys heat in a blazing 11 minutes, 44.20 seconds – the fastest time among all runners by more than 13 seconds.
“The goal was just to come in and improve on last year’s time,” said Kesting, who also won last year as a sophomore with a meet-best time of 11:51.36 before finishing 12th at the Class 4A state meet. “I want to have a better showing at state this year so I put in a lot of work this summer. I was very pleased with my time today, especially since I didn’t really have anyone up there pushing me.”
Kesting’s winning time was more than 30 seconds faster than fellow Olympia runner Ben Gilvar Parke, who finished second in the division with a time of 12:14.47. North Thurston’s Tyler Reece (12:24.40) finished third.
Capital’s Lauren Pierson was equally impressive in winning the junior girls event.
Wearing cheetah-print Nike shoes, Pierson immediately took control of the field and won going away, stopping the clock in a speedy 14:14.66 – a 27-second improvement over her second-place finish last year as a sophomore.
Issaquah’s Ellie Clawson (14:33.86) was a distant second.
The Capital girls had a strong overall showing, with freshman Kat Copeland (14:33.07) taking first place in her race.
The Capital girls also got fourth-place (Sarah Paquet) and 10th-place finishes (Tae’lor Johnson) among freshmen and a ninth-place finish from Payton McGuin in the junior division to go with solid performances from seniors Nicole Hartman (fourth), Hannah Hartman (sixth) and Sophia McLain (eighth).
“Everyone is so supportive of each other on this team,” said Pierson, who finished 10th at the girls 2A state meet last season. “There’s never a time when someone isn’t pushing you.”
The Capital girls finished third at last year’s 2A state meet, a finish they are looking to improve this year.
“We have such great leadership with our seniors and with Lauren,” Wright said. “It’s an outstanding group of girls to coach. We know (defending 2A state champion) Sehome (of Bellingham) didn’t graduate anyone from last year and they’re going to be extremely tough to beat this year, but we believe we can be right there with them at season’s end.”
Montesano’s Gabrielle Rudolph (14:34.65) and North Thurston’s Hallie Whitley (14:49.22) finished first and second, respectively, among the senior girls.
Shelton’s Cody Williamson, first last year as a junior, had to settle for second in the senior boys race because Nick Mounier of Kelso took the event in 11:57.30. Williamson’s time was 11:59.58. Tumwater’s Brent Knutzen was third (12:03.29).
Mossyrock’s Alicia Herrera remained perfect at the course, following up her winning performance last year as a freshman by winning the sophomore girls event (14:45.10), with Shelton’s Courtney Burke claiming second (15:19.21).
Issaquah’s Kennan Schrag (12:24.86) won the sophomore boys race with J.P. Guyer of Black Hills (12:28.75) finishing second, while Northwest Christian’s Luke Schilter (12:54.23) won the freshmen boys event.