TACOMA - With the way the final day of the Class 2A Girls' State Track and Field Championships started on Saturday, May 25, nearly everyone in attendance at Mount Tahoma High School started asking: What do they put in the water up North - besides, of course, bridges?
Sehome and Bellingham combined to win the first six on-track events on Saturday. Add in Emily Pittis' win in the 1,600 meters from Thursday, May 23, and the Bellingham city schools won seven of the first eight 2A girls' running events this year.
"Our district, man, we came out and were ready to go," Bellingham's Mia Hodges said. "Our little Bellingham tri-school area was amazing."
And they were just getting started.
Squalicum's Gina Flint, as expected won a state title in the discus, before the Sehome 4x400 relay team wrapped up the on-track competition by leading a 1-2 finish with Bellingham.
Need more proof just how dominant the girls from the three city schools were on Saturday?
Just look at the final team standings.
Sehome won the 2A team title - its third in four years and fourth overall - with 74 points.
Bellingham finished second with 49.5 points. And Squalicum also brought home a trophy, finishing fourth with 46 points.
And just in case that wasn't enough, Northwest Conference rival Burlington-Edison was fifth at 45. Sandwiched in the middle of the NWC sweep was Cheney with 49 points.
"We had a really tough district, and so the people that did get to go to state could compete and do as well as we did," said Sehome's Hanna Tarleton, who won the 300 hurdles and was part of the Mariners' winning 4x200 and 4x400 relays. "We were prepared for this level of competition."
Despite how well the difficult district prepared Sehome for state, the fact that the Mariners were the last ones standing on the podium - sharing a dual title with the boys' team - may have been a little bit of a surprise.
Especially when you factor in some of the adversity that Sehome had to go through this year with injuries and illnesses that kept some of the Mariners' top runners from performing at their best for some or all of the season.
Sarah Dolese batted a heart ailment that kept her from practicing for about a month during the winter. Kendra Thomas battled injury throughout the year. Pittis battled an iron deficiency. And there were others.
"They came into the season fourth or fifth place behind Bellingham, Squalicum, Kitsap and Cheney," Sehome co-coach Kevin Ryan said. "For them to buy in all year and understand it's 13 weeks and we're going to have highs and we're going to have lows. ... I think if you'd told people at the beginning of the year that we'd be the champion, they'd have thought, 'Aww maybe, but something will have to happen.'"
Even in the state meet, the Mariners faced adversity when their top-ranked 4x100 relay disqualified in the preliminaries on Friday, May 25, because of a dropped baton.
But they didn't let it get to them.
"Yesterday, I had the 200 right after 4x100, so right away I had to forget about it," Dolese said. "I went by myself and just kind of let it go."
As if to prove the point, Dolese joined with Elsa Sandeno, Tarleton and Bridget Henry to win the day's first event on Saturday, the 4x200 in 1 minute, 42.23 seconds.
Brianna Keane followed one event later with a win in the 800 in 2:15.63, before Tarleton made it three-for-three for the green and gold with her win in the 300 hurdles in a state meet- and school-record time of 43.20 seconds.
Dolese kept things rolling with a fourth-place finish in the 100 (12.63 seconds), and Pittis claimed her second title of the meet in the 3,200 with a school-record time of 10:52.46 as her mom spurred her on with shouts of, "Run for your team."
"I just gave it all for team," Pittis said. "I gave it everything, and left it up to the other girls. We've had a really good day. It's been an amazing meet for Sehome."
And that team-first attitude was a big part of the reason why.
"They're a team, and when teams look at track as a team sport, that's when they're most successful," Ryan said.
Dolese wrapped up her day with a first-place finish in the 200 (25.36 seconds) to lock up the team title, before freshman Dana Ringler, Keane, Sandeno and Tarleton put the cherry on top by winning the 4x400 relay in 3:57.50.
If anybody understands what a team-first attitude can do, its Bellingham, as the Red Raiders' second-place finish came by just a half point over Cheney - or the margin of Olivia Halverson's eighth-place tie in Friday's high jump.
"I think it's just ridiculously hard to trophy here," Bellingham coach Bill McClement said. "There have been a lot of ups and downs over the last three weeks. I really can't say enough about the entire team effort, especially our senior girls - Olivia Halverson, Bekah Jensen, Chantal Tran. ... Olivia's score makes such a difference. She's scored so many points here, just this time it was a half a point. That leadership is so valuable."
McClement said the same for Jensen, who didn't qualify through district in any individual races, but helped the Red Raiders place second in the 4x400 in 4:02.68. One spot lower, and the team would have been looking at third.
Without Tran, Bellingham probably would be looking at even lower.
Not only did Tran finish second to teammate Alyssa Porter in the 100 - Porter won in 12.42 seconds and Tran ran a 12.54 - she also finished fourth in the 200 in 25.56 seconds.
"To see them go 1-2 against such difficult competition, I'm just so happy for them," McClement said. "That's hard to do, too."
But when you have the two fastest 2A girls in the state, a great corner runner in Mary Dyrland and mix in strong newcomer Annie Waddell, it's no surprise that Bellingham was able to repeat as state champions in the 4x100 relay with a state meet-record time of 48.12 seconds.
But the performance that really ended up being the difference for Bellingham was the one that looked like the most disappointing at first glance.
Mia Hodges entered the 800 with the second-fastest time to Keane, and she did everything she could to keep up when Keane made her break. So much so, in fact, that she ended up stumbling about 5 meters from the finish line.
Two runners passed Hodges as she lay, face-first, on the track, but the sophomore struggled to her knees and crawled across the finish line for fourth (2:20.31). Any lower, and that second-place team trophy wouldn't be in Bellingham right now.
"It happens," Hodges said. "I fought in the 8. But all you can do is channel it to the next race."
Hodges' next race happened to be the 4x400, when her strong second leg kept Bellingham in position to finish second.
If any team understands what difference each little individual place can make, it's Squalicum.
Yes, the Storm got some big, expected performances from Gina Flint, who added a discus win to her shot put state title from Friday.
Well, won the discus is a bit of an understatement. Flint destroyed the competition and the five-year old state meet-record by 15 feet with her winning throw of 161 feet, 11 inches.
"Gina was terrific," Squalicum coach Katrina Henry said. "I know she would have liked to have thrown further, but she did great."
So did freshman Kim Hazlett, who managed to survive one of the most grueling races to finish sixth in the 400 with a time of 59.16 seconds.
"I think it's great, especially as a freshman," Hazlett said. "It's not the greatest event feeling wise, but I thought it was fun and a really good experience to be here. ... I was trying my hardest not to get last so that I could get as many points as possible."
Henry also gave credit to the performance of the Storm's pole vaulters on Friday for getting crucial points.
Squalicum's fourth-place finish in the 4x100 relay also played a big part for the Storm, as it turned in a time of 49.80 seconds.
That time was particularly impressive considering Allie Kohr was inserted into the anchor leg when pole vaulter Kristin Webber developed a leg injury. Kohr answered the call saying, "It's a weird experience to have somebody drop the anchor leg on you like that, but I was really happy I got to run it."
So was the rest of the relay.
"We all just focused on working for each other," Julia DeVere said. "We've all been working on handoff lately. Just going off fast, leaving right on the mark - don't leave early, don't leave late. And we just knew that would get us where we got today."
With that sort of attitude, it's no wonder all three Bellingham city schools had so much success this weekend.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.