Cards cruise to state cross country crown
Team picks up slack for injured Micah Dingfield, wins first state title
Medical Lake athletics
Medical Lake's boy's cross country team on top of the podium as the 1A state champions. The state title was the Cardinals' first-ever in cross country and the fifth state championship in school history.
Micah Dingfield led the Medical Lake boy's cross country team to Pasco and gave them the chance to win a state championship.
And the team returned the favor, helping carry the weight last Saturday and delivering that first-ever state championship at Sun Willows Golf Course. The Cardinals scored 72 points to easily outdistance LaCenter's 112 and the 128 from Meridian, delivering the school its fifth overall state title.
Little did anyone know that Dingfield's dominating Most Valuable Runner, first-place performance Nov. 2 at the windy Plantes Ferry Park that led the Cardinals to the District 6-7 championship – and the automatic team berth at state – was done despite a painful stress fracture in his foot.
"Micah ran with a stress fracture at districts and we didn't know it," Cardinals co-coach Gene Blankenship said.
He found out Thursday that his junior star was seriously hobbled. "We pretty much left it up to his parents and him to run or not on Saturday," Blankenship said. "He chose and the parents said fine."
Picking up for his injured teammate was junior Domenic Rehm who was the top ML runner in a time of 16 minutes, 24.6 seconds, seventh overall in a field topped by the 15:50.8 of Graham Peet from Northwest High School in Seattle.
Dingfield still clocked a 16:39.7 and finished second for his team and 12th overall. Tim Chernisoff was third, 16th overall and Jacob Dingfield fourth and 19th with a 16:51.2 as Medical Lake dominated with four runners in the top-20.
Blankenship and co-coach David McNeil routinely crunch numbers and know all the likely scenarios.
"We thought we would score about 67 and no body would be under 100 besides us," Blankenship said. "As it turned out it was 72 and nobody else was under 100 except us."
How important was Dingfield's contribution? "If he had not run we would have finished fifth," Blankenship said.
"I'm going to tell you, everyone picked it up, Tim Chernisoff PR'd by a long ways," Blankenship said. "We had four kids under 17 (minutes) for the first time; Noah (Kroeze) our fifth guy ran 17.11 and he finished 36th."
But even with the adding up numbers in advance and continuing to crunch them as the race went on, Blankenship was still nervous. "I said we had to have won this thing," Blankenship said. On the other hand, "Did I miss someone?"
"It's lucky we didn't have to go to the sixth man," Blankenship explained. And that's not a knock on John Pineda who broke the 18-minute barrier for the first time – and did so by a long ways – with a 17.11. Freshman Mark Jensen was ML's No. 7 at 18:08.
The Cardinal girls, 10th in the competition, "ran real good and we had six of the seven girls PR," led by the team's top finisher, junior Maleeka Wegner's 20:39 who was 33rd overall. Junior Kaylin Sattler's 20:45 was 36th and second and Mariah Pena, a freshman, third at 20:51.
"It was a little disappointing, but they still gave us everything they had," considering ML was eighth in 2012,
Sakaiya McCoy, whose efforts in the Bi-Districts Nov. 2 got the Cardinals to state as a team, was hurting and finished fourth.
The nice thing for Blankenship, "Everyone comes back for us next year except for Abby (Morrison), she ran sixth girl for us," Blankenship said of the team's only senior.
Of the entire 18 kids on both boys' and girls' teams in Pasco only Morrison does not return.
That will likely come with a new-look Northeast A with the possible addition of both Pullman and Colville whose declining enrollments have them leaving the Great Northern League.
For now, Blankenship will bask in some of the glow knowing he's helped take Medical Lake's program from simply competing when he started to champions.
When he gets things fired up again, Blankenship's goal for 2014 is to have the boys win again and get the girls back, and to move back up the finish ladder.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.