Cade Brown smiled the entire length of the final straightaway in front of the north stands at Civic Stadium, acknowledging cheers of support before playfully thrusting out his chest and throwing his arms back to mimic breaking the tape at the finish line.
Annika Reiss effortlessly jogged down the same stretch breathing about has hard as somebody who’d been sitting on the sofa for the past 30 minutes.
Bellingham’s standouts simply made it look easy Thursday, Oct. 20, in sweeping the individual titles at the Northwest Conference Cross Country Championships.
“I love racing with these guys, and running is such a fun event, there’s no reason not to smile and have fun,” Brown said.
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While Reiss successfully defended the NWC crown she won as a freshman, Brown became the first Red Raider boys runner to win the league title since Chris Kwiatkowski in 2006.
Brown, Anacortes’ James Parker and Lynden Christian’s Eric Steiger battled in a three-runner breakaway midway through the race, but Brown dropped the hammer going up a hill on the second lap behind Civic Stadium and left his competition to battle for second.
“I know hills; I can do hills,” Brown said. “I’m strong there. I knew it was the last time we were going to face it, so I put in a little extra effort there.”
But even he admitted he was surprised by the size of the lead he was able to build. Brown won in 15 minutes, 39 seconds. Parker finished 19 seconds behind, and Steiger was another three seconds back.
Reiss also won by a sizable margin, as her time of 18:38 was 13 seconds ahead of Sehome’s Abby Johnson.
“This year, I think I know my strengths and I know how to run a 5K better,” Reiss said. “It’s nice to be able to lead and run my own race.”
For the seventh time in eight years, Sehome swept the team titles.
The Mariner boys had their five scoring runners – Logan Franey, Bryce Johnson, Reed Smith, Jackson Slesk and Drake Kirby – finish in the top 11 to cruise to a 70-point victory over second-place Burlington-Edison.
The Sehome girls, however, had to sweat out a two-point victory over Anacortes to win their ninth straight conference crown. Kate Rose was right behind Johnson in third place, while Rosie Kirker finished sixth and Emma Clark was 12th.
Bellingham (third), Squalicum (fourth) and Meridian (fifth) also earned top-five finishes on the girls’ side, while Meridian (third) and Bellingham (fifth) had strong boys finishes.
The NWC Championships signal the start of the postseason, as all area teams head to their district championships Oct. 28 at South Whidbey, where they hope to qualify for the state championships the following weekend in Pasco.
“The key today was just running a relaxed race and focusing on my team and my training,” Reiss said. “The goal is districts and state. … I have more confidence. I know that my training has been successful. I’m ready to race.”
Team results: 1. Sehome 33, 2. Burlington-Edison 103, 3. Meridian 110, 4. Lakewood 117, 5. Bellingham 142, 6. Squalicum 155, 7. Anacortes 175, 8. Lynden 243, 9. Mount Baker 266, 10. Lynden Christian 266, 12. Sedro-Woolley 300, 13. Ferndale 364, 14. Blaine 370.
Individual top finishers: 1. Cade Brown (Bellingham) 15:39, 2. James Parker (Anacortes) 15:58, 3. Eric Steiger (Lynden Christian) 16:01, 4. Logan Franey (Sehome) 16:16, 5. Bryce Johnson (Sehome) 16:18, 6. Reed Smith (Sehome) 16:28, 7. Jackson Slesk (Sehome) 16:37, 8. Calder Wood (Anacortes) 16:44, 9. Nicholas Leishman (Bellingham) 16:45, 10. Anthony Meza (Lakewood) 16:50, 11. Drake Kirby (Sehome) 16:56, 12. Kenny Barnes (Meridian) 16:58, 13. Tadeusz Pforte (Sehome) 16:59, 14. Trey Meyer (Burlington-Edison) 17:01, 15. Blake Donnelly (Burlington-Edison) 17:02, 16. Kyler Cruz (Sehome) 17:04, 17. Hunter Ashby (Burlington-Edison) 17:05, 18. Nathan Schneider (Meridian), 19. Ian Tomberling (Squalicum) 17:09, 20. James Hafner (Lakewood) 17:09.
Team results: 1. Sehome 53, 2. Anacortes 55, 3. Bellingham 83, 4. Squalicum 117, 5. Meridian 143, 6. Sedro-Woolley 166, 7. Nooksack Valley 169, 8. Lakewood 204, 9. Lynden Christian 208, 10. Burlington-Edison 247, 11. Mount Baker 252, 12. Lynden 370.
Individual top finishers: 1. Annika Reiss (Bellingham) 18:38, 2. Abby Johnson (Sehome) 18:51, 3. Kate Rose (Sehome) 19:08, 4. Saville Feist (Anacortes) 19:11, 5. Alyce Harlan (Nooksack Valley) 19:15, 6. Rosie Kirker (Sehome) 19:27, 7. Heather Hanson (Anacortes) 20:14, 8. Ashlee VanDenTop (Meridian) 19:39, 9. Taleah Phillips (Anacortes) 20:14, 10. Sophia Riccardi (Anacortes) 20:17, 11. Brooke DeBeeld (Nooksack Valley) 20:19, 12. Emma Clark (Sehome) 20:21, 13. McKenna O’Keffe (Squalicum) 20:24, 14. Tessa Smith (Sedro-Woolley) 20:26, 15. Abby Koenig (Squalicum) 20:29, 16. Grace Much (Bellingham) 20:31, 17. Grace Oswin (Squalicum) 20:32, 18. Sienna Smith (Sedro-Woolley) 20:33, 19. Livi Lackland (Squalicum) 20:33, 20. Kaitlyn Stapp (Mount Baker) 20:34.