By PAUL DELANEY
There’s a new vibe in Medical Lake these days, something that hasn’t been heard in quite a while – better than a decade by some accounts.
It’s the talk of some Cardinals’ teams getting to be part of a meaningful postseason in autumn for the first time in a number of years.
As October slides toward November both the Medical Lake cross country and football teams have realistic shots at competing past the regular season.
“It’s kind of exciting and kind of nerve-wracking because you don’t want anyone to get sick,” cross country coach Gene Blankenship said.
Football coach Wes Hobbs also knows his team harbors a shot at getting to play against Eastern Washington’s other 1A league, the Caribou Trail. But his main focus is taking a bye week and getting his Cardinals healthy and ready for their final Northeast A League contest Oct. 26 when they host Freeman.
Right now playoffs are “not part of the discussion with this team,” Hobbs said because there’s too much time between now and the end of the regular season. “It’s a good feel to know there’s something riding on this last game.”
Blankenship was a very successful cross country coach in California in the 1980s and 1990s. He resurrected a futile program at Santa Clarita’s Hart High, winning three consecutive state championships.
And now, after three years, it appears Blankenship has moved Medical Lake into contention to get its first team berth in the state championships at Pasco in close to a decade.
One barometer might have been the ML boys’ near miss 25-30 loss versus defending 1A state champion Lakeside. Another could have been the successful defense of the Cardinals’ Seaport Invitational title last Friday in Clarkston.
Specifically, were some numbers Blankenship crunched in the aftermath of his boys’ 38-58 team win over Asotin and the girls’ decision in a tiebreaker versus Moscow, Idaho in the Seaport.
What Blankenship learned was that - on paper, at least - his boys’ times were comparable to what Cheney had logged on the Clarkston course for a recent Great Northern League meet.
“If you compare the boys’ times that they ran and we ran, on the same course, we would have beaten them 25-30,” Blankenship said. “That’s an honest comparison.”
Blankenship admits his team was running an invitational and Cheney was competing in a dual meet so they were going to win easily. “Anytime that we can think we can beat Cheney, that’s OK with me,” he said.
Mental attitude and ability are two very powerful tools for success Blankenship has helped craft and fine tune as head coach.
Blankenship said he thinks both Medical Lake boys and girls can qualify teams for the regionals that take place Oct. 27 in Wenatchee. “To the best of my knowledge that has never happened before,” Blankenship said.
To accomplish that rarity, and go further, Medical Lake must finish in the top-3 at regionals and that allows nine team members – seven regulars and two alternates – to make the trip to Pasco Nov. 3.
Blankenship predicts the first two teams in the district – the Northeast A League – should be Lakeside and Medical Lake. “Unless someone has a bad day,” Blankenship said. “The third qualifier could be Quincy” on the boys’ side.
On the girls’ side Medical Lake sits third behind Lakeside and Riverside. “We’re in a solid third place position right now but you don’t know what’s going to happen on race day,” Blankenship said.
“My whole philosophy is team,” Blankenship said. “That last two years we’ve qualified kids for state, last year was the best in a long time; I had two boys and a girl but those were individuals.”
As for the cautious Hobbs, there’s too much movement that can happen between now and the Freeman game for him to offer any opinions.
The reality is “We’d be playing for the league championship had things worked out right,” Hobbs said, referring to the Cardinals’ loss to Chewelah two weeks ago 33-28. “We just want in.”
While Hobbs doesn’t have much to say on the matter of playoffs at this point at least it’s part of the conversation. And that’s certainly a good thing.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.