Sehome senior Conner Johnsen finished off his high school career with a Class 2A State Championship Track and Field meet he won't likely forget anytime soon.
Not only did Johnsen end up pushing Squalicum's Patrick Gibson to within seven thousandths of a second in the 1,600 meter final, he came back to beat Gibson in the 3,200 meters two days later.
"After the Shoreline Invitational this year when I went 9:08 (in the 3,200), we looked and we realized Patrick wasn't unbeatable," Johnsen said in a phone interview. "We thought we could get him. ... We thought Patrick would run a sub-9-minute time in the 32, and we didn't know if we could do that. We thought we had a better shot in the 16. Lap three I made my move, but it wasn't long until Patrick overtook again, and he ended up getting me at the end.
"That was disappointing, because our whole year we were building to the 16. I went into the 32 with a little bit of an edge - I was mad I didn't get the lean. My whole goal was to sit on him the whole way and out-kick him at the end. That was huge. I had no idea I would be able to run a sub-9. That photo the Herald got at the end where I'm celebrating wasn't me celebrating because I won, but because I broke nine minutes. Looking back, I still can't believe it - breaking (Jake Riley's school) record."
Though he had been a part of a number of team state titles, winning his first individual title definitely opened the eyes of college recruiters around the country.
And while that was redeeming for Johnsen, in the end it didn't end up changing his mind about where he wanted to go. Johnsen stuck with his heart and his initial plans and has signed to run cross country and track for Washington State next year.
Johnsen said he made the choice over Boise State, Gonzaga and Kentucky, which showed interest after last month's state meet.
"It was a load off my shoulders to get interest from schools like Kentucky," Johnsen said. "This may sound bad, but I thought I was fast enough to get offers from some of those other schools before state. I was a little discouraged, I guess. I was happy to get the attention when I did, though."
But not happy enough to turn his back on Cougars.
"Their coach came and visited my house, and he laid everything out in front of me - from the classroom to the track," Johnsen said. "I was like, 'Wow. This is a good fit.' I talked to a lot of guys from their team on Facebook, and I really liked them. It just seemed right."
The chance to etch his name alongside other Sehome boys' runners that have gone on to run in the Pacific-12 Conference, such as Sehome's Alex Grant (WSU), Jake Riley (Stanford) and Mason McHenry (Arizona State) also interested Johnsen.
"Sehome guys have had a lot of success in the Pac-12," Johnsen said. "I talked to Jake and Mason a lot about college going into the year. The Pac-12 is very competitive, and it's very familiar to a lot of people here because it is so close."
It seems even closer when your father is a Washington State alum.
"I've been a Cougar growing up," Johnsen said. "We have Cougar stuff everywhere. It's kind of been my dream school."
And Johnsen should be a dream for the WSU distance running program.
In addition to his winning time of 8:59.76 in the state 1,600, Johnsen's second-place time in the 3,200 was a personal best at 4:11.85. He also won the District 1/2 title in the 1,600.
During the fall, Johnsen finished third at the 2A State Cross Country Championships with a personal-best time of 15:37.5. He had two straight top-five finishes and finished among the top 20 in state his final three years at Sehome.
Though he has not yet declared a major, Johnsen said he is looking at going into Education.
That should be a good fit for the runner, who showed throughout his high school career that he has character to match his high talent level, much like the other members of the most talented class of distance runners to ever go through Whatcom County.
Johnsen becomes the fifth member of the Class of 2013 to sign to become a distance runner at an NCAA Division I school, joining Gibson (Stanford), Bellingham's Joe Charbonneau (Seattle University), Mount Baker's Dillon Quintana (Gonzaga) and Blaine's Tom Bradley (University of San Francisco).
"I think it solidifies that we were one of the best classes to ever come through the county," Johnsen said of joining that list. "It's been a pleasure to race with those guys. The nice thing about it is none of those guys was a jerk -- they were all good guys. Everybody was nice to each other before races. You'd go up to each other and see what they were hoping to hit for splits. I think we all tried to help each other. It's been fun to race with those guys, because they all were such great guys."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or call 715-2271.