Ohio State football. Kentucky men’s basketball. Connecticut women’s basketball.
Those are the power programs that spring to mind when you hear the term “national champion.” A private high school with a mere 125 students wouldn’t typically enter the conversation.
That’s exactly what could happen, though, if the Northwest Christian High School boys cross country team is successful this Saturday at the Class 1B/2B state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
The Navigators are ranked second in the National Coaches Association D-II Small School Cross Country Team Rankings and have a chance to pass the leader, Trinity Prep of Winter Park, Florida, in the balloting should they fare better than the Saints in the teams’ respective state meets this weekend. Just as NWC did in winning the Pacific League meet, Trinity Prep tallied a perfect score of 15 in winning its region meet last week.
Division II is for schools with 699 students or fewer. Trinity Prep has around 500, still more than three times NWC’s enrollment, which is the smallest in the current top 25.
Northwest Christian’s top runner, junior Luke Schilter, is more concerned with leading his team to a Washington State title than the mythical national crown — “it’s an actual race over a course, not a vote,” he said — but doesn’t discount the significance of how high the Navigators have risen.
“It’s come as a complete surprise,” he said. “All of it. I never thought I would beat my brother (former teammate and current St. Martin’s University runner Levi Schilter) when I was a freshman. I never thought I’d have a chance to win state or that our team would be nationally ranked.”
Although four Navigators have run at least as fast as 16:42 over the 5,000 meters that will comprise the state course — juniors Schilter and Corban Phillips as well as seniors Luke Bredeson and Colton Buster — Schilter has the best chance to claim the individual crown he just missed the past two seasons.
While he hasn’t matched the season-best 15:32.7 he ran at the Fort Steilacoom Invitational in mid-September, both Schilter and coach Larry Weber believe he can go faster.
“He’s very, very strong, more fit than last year,” Weber said. “He ran by himself a lot in league and districts, wasn’t challenged and still ran great times.”
Tapering off his training from 48 miles per week to 35 should help Schilter maintain his strength for Saturday’s battle with at least two new adversaries. In both 2013 and 2014, he finished second at state behind Chandler Teigen of Asotin. Teigen has graduated but Jack Ammon, a junior at the other Northwest Christian, in Colbert, has a 15:45 time to his credit and Kenneth Rooks of College Place could also loom tough.
“I just want to go out fast from the gun,” said Schilter, who admits he would prize a quality time as much as a gold medal. “If it was around a 15:15 I’d be happy whatever place I finished.”
As a team, the Navigators are favored by a computer projection to win the meet with no runner finishing farther back than 31st, based on best marks during the current season. Eli Taylor, Stephen Epp and David Abell round out Northwest Christian’s seven.
Northwest Christian’s girls have won the last nine 1B/2B state meets, but as a young team with only two seniors in the top seven, Lina Hoffman and Cathy Kan, they will face strong challenges from Asotin, Ocosta and Reardan this weekend. The Navigator girls are paced by sophomore Ellie Summers and junior Megan McSheffrey, who have both recorded bests of 19:26.5
STATE CROSS COUNTRY QUALIFIERS
State meet, Saturday, Sun Willows Golf Course, Pasco
CLASS 4A BOYS, 2:30 p.m.
Olympia (Noah Murry, sr.; Ben Riley, sr.; Tilahun Castro, fr.; Dylan Miller, so.; Jack McCauley, so.; Sam Fleckenstein, fr.; Ben Van Haitsma, so.; Sayer McDonald, so.; Caleb Dickinson-Cove, so.)
CLASS 4A GIRLS, 1 p.m.
Olympia (Brenna Carlson, sr.; Stella Grimsted, so.; Kiersten Kimminau, jr.; Maia Halvorson, sr.; Ariel Wilhite, jr.; Emma Hatton, sr.; McKenna Hooper, jr.; Zoe Wiley, fr.; Claire Teters, jr.)
CLASS 3A BOYS, 2 p.m.
North Thurston (Peter Allegre, sr.; Tommy Johnson, jr.; John Bretschneider, jr.; Charlie Jellison, jr.; Dakota Guthrie, so.; Damien Co, sr.; Dylan Willis, jr.; Griffin Peppley, sr.; Lucas Johnson, sr.)
Capital (Beau Crabill, jr.; Sam Phillips, sr.; Jace Cotton, jr.; Jamison Spence, jr.; Tanner Stipic, so.; Zach Willis, so.; Ian Glebe, sr.; Connor Morrison, so.; Jacob Lindbloom, fr.)
William Johnson, Shelton, fr.
CLASS 3A GIRLS, 12:30 p.m.
Naomi Reyes, Capital, so.
CLASS 2A BOYS, 1:30 p.m.
Tumwater (Jonah Valler, sr.; Evan Groat, jr.; Joseph Morrissey, so.; Andrew Dellsite, sr.; Ryan Knight, so.; Nate Wertjes, sr.; Kenny Farver, sr.; William Swanson, sr.; Benjamin Rinn, sr.)
J.P. Guyer, W.F. West, sr.
CLASS 2A GIRLS, 11 a.m.
Tumwater (Lauren Ericks, sr.; Aislynn Hansen, sr.; Olivia Wertjes, fr.; Hannah Reynolds, fr.; Codi Short, jr.; Anna Drohman, so.; Georgia Swanson, fr.; Megan Warner, fr.)
Ava Shackell, Black Hills, fr.; Lauryn Gray, River Ridge, jr.; Makayla Erickson, Centralia, fr.; Maggie Wood-Richardson, Centralia, fr.
CLASS 1A BOYS, 12 p.m.
Wesley Allen, Elma, sr.; Brody Burbidge, Elma, sr.; Tucker Holcomb, Elma, so.
CLASS 1A GIRLS, 10:30 a.m.
Maddi Clark, Elma, fr.; Marissa Dallaire, Tenino, sr.
CLASS 1B/2B BOYS, 11:30 a.m.
Northwest Christian (Luke Schilter, jr.; Corban Phillips, jr.; Luke Bredeson, sr.; Colton Buster, sr.; Eli Taylor, jr.; Steven Epp, jr.; David Abell, sr.; Zeke Taylor, jr.; Hamilton Summers, fr.)
Rainier (Zak Miller, sr.; Shouridama Beadle, jr.; Jonny Hansen, sr.; Brighton Klein, so.; Devyn Davis, jr.; Ethan MacFarland, fr.; Travis Eygabroad, fr.; Adam Chatman, so.; Dakota Ducharme, so.)
CLASS 1B/2B GIRLS, 10 a.m.
Northwest Christian (Megan McSheffrey, so.; Ellie Summers, so.; Lina Hoffman, sr.; Lauren Dominguez, jr.; Katy Treinen, jr.; Cathy Kan, sr.; Mackenzie Teigen, so.; Chloe Colello, jr.; Hannah Gardner, fr.)
Elaina Hansen, Rainier, fr.