OLYMPIA - On this day, size didn't matter.
Not for Olympia’s “just barely” 5-foot Monica Madrigal. Not for Gig Harbor’s 5-foot-7 Conner Peloquin.
And not for Northwest Christian, the smallest of the 29 schools entered in Saturday’s Capital Invite.
At the 18th edition of this cross country meet, Northwest Christian came up with one of the biggest performances, placing five runners in the top 10. Lucas Graham led the way with the race of his life to win the sophomore boys race, finishing the 2.3-mile course in 12 minutes, 27 seconds – a pace of 6:13 per mile.
“One thing we stress is that running is running,” Northwest Christian coach Bill Kehoe said. “It doesn’t matter what school you run for. It didn’t look like my kids were intimidated at all.”
Graham surged and moved into first on the second lap, passing several runners from 4A schools and winning by six seconds.
“My coach says when the pace gets too slow to surge ahead,” Graham said. “The pace slowed, so I went. You want to go hard when you pass someone. You want them to lose heart.”
The Navigators came up big again in the boys junior race. Justin Holden tested his summer training of 40 miles a week with a late surge and placed second in 12:29. He was 46 seconds behind the winner, Chehalis’ Dakota Parker.
“I felt stronger at the end of the race,” Holden said. “My summer of running really paid off.”
Madrigal, who reached 5-foot just this year, made up for her short stride with foot speed to place third behind two Gig Harbor runners in the girls junior race, finishing in 15:07. Madrigal sprinted into the lead early but couldn’t hold off Gig Harbor’s Maureen Tremblay, who won in 14:29.
“I have a tendency to start fast,” Madrigal said. “I ran six days a week over the summer. That helped today.”
Madrigal’s teammate, Clare Kane, matched the pace of Gig Harbor’s Ruby Roberts early, but Roberts pulled away and won the girls senior race in 14:11. Kane, who bumped her training to 55 miles a week over the summer, finished in 14:43, a 7:21 pace.
“I have a tendency to get anxious before a race,” Kane said. “Before the race my coach told me to calm down and just go out and be me.”
Peloquin, running in the boys senior race, took the lead on a hill climb 800 meters in and never trailed again, winning in 11:41.4. Peloquin, who won his race for the second time, had the fastest time of the day, keeping a 5:50 pace.
“The pace wasn’t fast enough going up the hill so I took the lead,” Peloquin said.
Peloquin’s target time was the meet record (11:29) for the senior race. But when Auburn Riverside’s Kenny Krotzer cut Peloquin’s lead, the Gig Harbor runner’s focus changed.
“Kenny scared me,” Peloquin said. “I wasn’t racing the clock then. I was racing him.”
The Capital girls placed someone in the top 15 in all four races. Freshmen Carry Larsen and Eliza Ramsey placed ninth and 10th, respectively. Sophomore Avia Browning was eighth and junior Brianne Wright was ninth.
“We have kids finishing in the top in every race,” Capital girls coach Kevin Wright said. “We have a good pack. We’ll do better as the season goes along.”
Northwest Christian’s other top-10 placers were freshman Hailey Bredeson (fifth) and Allison Sowers (sixth), sophomore Elizabeth Weber (fourth) and junior Joanna Sowers (eighth). Weber was in second place with 600 meters remaining, dropped to sixth and passed two runner in the closing yards with a strong kick to finish in 15:18.
“I didn’t want to get boxed in at the beginning, so I went out fast,” Weber said. “I wanted to push myself as long as I could. It’s nice to run against the big schools.”
Parker sprinted into the lead early in the boys junior race and continued to pull away. He upped his summer workouts from 40 miles a week to 50.
“It’s made a big difference,” said Parker, who placed sixth in the meet last year. “I feel like I can hold my pace.”
The 18th annual Capital Invite drew 29 schools and more than 1,000 runners, keeping its status as one of the biggest invitationals in the state. The race returned to the Capital campus after two years at Capitol Lake.
Capital coach Jerry Miller approved of the change in venues.
“This is a real cross country course,” Miller said. “It’s got hills, trails and trees. The lake had better scenery, but this is a better course.”
The meet has a unique format. It runs separate races for each grade from freshmen to seniors for boys and girls.
“I love this meet,” Olympia coach Cris Violette said. “It gives our kids a chance to race and see where they are at.”
Olympia’s top 10 boys competed in a meet in Spokane.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443