SPORTS: Olympic League meet today might add to array of past state cross country champions

SEQUIM — Pat Durr felt compelled to make a prediction after the Salt Creek Invitational in September.

Kingston’s Marina Roberts had just dominated a field of 98 runners in the varsity girls race with a 32-second victory margin, while Port Angeles’ Alison Maxwell finished only two spots back in third.

The message was clear:

Even after the departures of former Class 2A state champions Ruby Roberts (Kingston) and Allison Cutting (Sequim), the Olympic League was still as strong as ever.

“We’re going to get a state champion out of this league,” said Durr, a longtime Port Angeles cross country coach. “We have great talent, which makes our league so much better. This is a tough league.”

Given recent history, it wasn’t exactly a bold statement.

After all, the Olympic League has produced six state champions since its reconstitution in 2006. At least one runner ­has gone on to win a state title each fall.

That began with Sequim’s Stephanie Marcy in 2006, progressed with Kingston’s Ruby Roberts in ’07 and blossomed with dual state champions in ’08 (Port Townsend’s Quinton Decker and Cutting) and ’09 (Port Townsend’s Bereket Piatt and Ruby Roberts).

So it’s hardly a stretch to expect today’s league meet at Cedars at Dungeness Golf Course — races start at approximately 3 p.m. — to produce a state champion . . . or two.

“The programs now are strong and they are getting good numbers,” Sequim coach Harold Huff said.

“You give these coaches good numbers, and they are going to produce some great runners.

“The Olympic League has been blessed with great athletes, but there’s some good coaches in this league, and they are getting great things out of their runners.

“You’d have to put cross country right up in the top one or two [among the league’s sports programs] in terms of state recognition and scholarships.”

Indeed, the amount of elite cross country talent in the Olympic League dwarfs many of its other athletic programs.

Handfuls of runners have gone on to compete in college during the past four years, with several earning Division I scholarships.

That includes Marcy from Stanford, Decker from Montana and Ruby Roberts from Washington State (see story on Page B3).

That number could grow in the next couple of years after Piatt and Marina Roberts — today’s favorites in the boys and girls races, respectively — graduate this year and next.

“I can’t give you a definitive reason why [the league has so much talent], but we’ve had state champions come out of this league,” Durr said.

“So I think the kids are rising to the occasion. They are running against state championship caliber runners. All the kids are getting better because the competition is so good.

“It’s a great cycle that faster kids means faster kids . . . competition means faster kids.”

That competition will be on full display today.

The North Kitsap girls come in ranked No. 5 in Class 2A, and the Port Townsend boys No. 1 in 1A.

Two other teams (Kingston girls and North Kitsap boys) sit just outside the state rankings.

Port Townsend’s Piatt and Habtamu Rubio and Kingston’s Nicholas Schippers headline an impressive field of individual runners in the boys race.

The Redskins duo finished 1-2 in last year’s 1A boys race, with Piatt also second at the Fort Worden Invitational two weeks ago.

Schippers was this year’s Salt Creek boys champ and finished just behind Piatt at Fort Worden.

On the girls side, state participants Marina Roberts, Maxwell and Sequim’s Audrey Lichten should all be at the front of the pack.

“Alison and Audrey, if they are top of their game, they could go 2-3 in the race,” Huff said.

“Right now, Marina is just running better than any of them.

“She’s having a good year. Even in the big races she’s doing really well.”

Four of the league’s seven Class 2A teams advance to the West Central District meet, as well as the top 20 runners. (Port Townsend is unaffected.)

“The level of competition isn’t just the front pack,” Durr said.

“Now the level of competition moves back to the number 3, 4, 5 runner of each team. It’s intense.

“That bodes really well as we get past league and get into district.”

And if recent history is any indicator, state as well.