BELLINGHAM - The hugs of respect among the top six finishers at the Northwest Conference Boys' Cross Country Championships on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at Civic Stadium were genuine.
"It's been amazing running cross country with these guys the past four years," Blaine senior Tom Bradley said. "Every one of these guys is an outstanding runner, and the level of competition between us has been second to none."
Sure there will be other races - district meets are a week and a half away, with state following the first Saturday in November.
But this was the last time the strongest class of distance runners Whatcom County has produced all got together in its entirety to race each other on a cross country course.
Bradley will walk away with the final bragging rights, as he out kicked Squalicum's defending Class 2A state champion Patrick Gibson to win with a time of 15 minutes, 21.93 seconds.
"This is a great way to finish it all off," Bradley said. "I've been working so hard for this, and I couldn't dream of a better way to finish my high school cross country career."
Bradley, who will now race in the Class 1A tri-district meet on Oct. 27 after reclassification this year, beat Gibson (15:26.62) by about five seconds. Ferndale's Connor Jungkuntz (15:42.99), Mount Baker's Dillon Quintana (15:43.64), Bellingham's Joe Charbonneau (15:45.86) and Sehome's Reed Henderson (15:47.21) weren't far behind.
Squalicum junior Chris Fredlund finished seventh to prevent a top-seven sweep by the seniors, but Sehome's Conner Johnsen came home eighth to help the top-ranked Mariners claim the team title with 58 points, beating out Squalicum's 80 and Bellingham's 82.
Though certainly not always in the same order as they finished Wednesday, the senior class has been dominating NWC races for most of the past three years.
"It's kind of weird that this is the last time we're all going to be running against each other," Gibson said. "It's been an honor running with all these guys. Every time you run against these guys, you know it's going to be a close race."
And Wednesday was no different, as the senior class exchanged the lead throughout a tightly packed first half of the 5,000-meter course in and around Civic Stadium.
But when runners emerged for the second time behind the Sportsplex, Gibson and Bradley had opened up a bit of a gap on the rest of the field.
"Tom and I talked before the race, and we broke about the time we expected to break," said Gibson, who was running his first race in nearly a month after making recruiting visits to Georgetown and Notre Dame. "The race got fast about when we thought it would get fast."
Gibson was the first to enter the Civic Stadium property, but Bradley was right on his hip, and by the time they ran behind the north stands and stepped on the track for the final loop, Bradley had taken a slight advantage.
He only pulled away from there.
"I kind of turned it on, and I felt I had a little more than him this time," Bradley said. "I know he's been on some recruiting trips, and travel will wear anybody down."
Jungkuntz won a tightly-packed battle for third place, while his twin brother Logan - another member of the strong senior class - finished 12th, helping Ferndale place seventh with 170 points.
"It's really sad when you think that we won't get to race those guys again until track," Connor Jungkuntz said. "These guys and I have grown up together. We've run together for years. Some of us played soccer together. We're more than just competitors - we're friends."
While Sehome placed its five scoring runners in the top 21 overall, including Kirby Overman in 10th, Bellingham had its top five runners all finish in the top 25, with Simon Maguire (ninth) joining Charbonneau in the top 10.
Meridian placed fifth overall and was led by Kelby Todd's 11th-place finish and Collin Magnusson in 16th. Lynden Christian finished sixth and was led by Cody Velthuizen's 15th-place finish.
Bradley's win helped Blaine place ninth, while Quintana's time boosted Mount Baker to 10th.
Nooksack Valley finished 11th and was led by Stephen Dietz in 52nd, while Lynden was 12th and saw Robbie Swineford finish 39th.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
NORTHWEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Civic Stadium
Team scores: 1. Sehome 58, 2. Squalicum, 3. Bellingham 82, 4. Anacortes 130, 5. Meridian 139, 6. Lynden Christian 165, 7. Ferndale 170, 8. Burlington-Edison 201, 9. Blaine 243, 10. Mount Baker 254, 11. Nooksack Valley 322, 12. Lynden 335, 13. Sedro-Woolley 345.
Top individuals: 1. Tom Bradley (Blaine) 15:21.93; 2. Patrick Gibson (Squalicum) 15:26.62; 3. Connor Jungkuntz (Ferndale) 15:42.99; 4. Dillon Quintana (Mount Baker) 15:43.64; 5. Joe Charbonneau (Bellingham) 15:45.86; 6. Reed Henderson (Sehome) 15:47.21; 7. Chris Fredlund (Squalicum) 15:47.21; 8. Conner Johnsen (Sehome) 15:53.08; 9. Simon Maguire (Bellingham) 15:59.53; 10. Kirby Overman (Sehome) 16:01.47.
Sehome: 6. Reed Henderson 15:47.21, 8. Conner Johnsen 15:53.08, 10. Kirby Overman 16:01.47, 13. Liam Toney 16:08.98, 21. Nolan Jones 16:35.29, 30. Nathan LeTavec 16:44.20, 37. Peter Finfrock 17:01.80.
Squalicum: 2. Patrick Gibson 15:26.62, 7. Chris Fredlund 15:47.21, 14. Nick Gallaher 16:12.55, 26. Dillon Rinauro 16:42.21, 31. Jared Radtke 16:44.59, 32. Dylan Dubuque 16:49.35, 46. North Bennett 17:18.75.
Bellingham: 5. Joe Charbonneau 15:45.86, 9. Simon Maguire 15:59.53, 20. Paris Speidel 16:33.42, 23. Brian Chmelik 16:37.96, 25. Jacob Stahl 16:41.02, 43. Hayden LeBlonde 17:13.93, 50. Sam Gillman 17:21.80.
Meridian: 11. Kelby Todd (Meridian), 16. Collin Magnusson 16:26.32, 28. Davis Phillips 16:43.31, 33. David Anderson 16:52.82, 60. Rico Martinez 17:44.42, Derek Morrow 18:06.47, 73. Jay Crandall 18:12.97.
Lynden Christian: 15. Cody Velthuizen 16:20.63, 27. Hunter Weinert 16:42.97, 41. Tyler Reardon 17:13.08, 42. Weston Whitener 17:13.32, 47. Jon Wiley 17:20.79, 67. Dylan Blok 18:00.45, 71. Connor Blok 18:09.79.
Ferndale: 3. Connor Jungkuntz 15:42.99, 12. Logan Jungkuntz 16:07.87, 22. Joshua DeVenere 16:36.48, 79. Kaleb Palmby 18:25.09, 80. Roberto Aguilera 18:26.46, 82. Jordan Baron 18:33.40, 83. Wiley Wright 18:34.03.
Blaine: 1. Tom Bradley 15:21.93, 58. Danny Thorpe 17:40.37, 63. David Shapiro 17:49.38, 77. John Cochran 18:20.64, 91. Christian Sharp 18:55.90, 92. Parker Morris 18:58.11.
Mount Baker: 4. Dillon Quintana 15:43.64, 29. Shelby Miles 16:43.82, 66. Ishmael Villaluz 17:56.92, 102. Josh Meyer 19:42.04, 104. Calvin Ledet 19:50.92, 108. Jacob Koranda 20:28.28, 111. David Godin 20:41.75.
Nooksack Valley: 52. Stephen Dietz 17:26.43, 76. Landon Olenslager 18:15.11, 84. Bret Johnson 18:38.36, 87. Conner Jones 18:43.93, 88. Jordan Ham 18:44.86, 93. Derek Johnson 19:03.95, 96. Taylor Gardner 19:18.20.
Lynden: 39. Robbie Swineford 17:08.37, 75. Nick Iaconetti 18:13.75, 90. Aiden McCaig 18:53.73, 95. Preetpal Sangha 19:15.28, 101. Eli Varner 19:39.47, 105. Anthony Ricci 19:55.21, 106. Alex Hathaway 19:59.56.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.