SPORTS: Salt Creek Invitational attracts top prep cross country teams

JOYCE — The pace always gets set at the Salt Creek Invitational cross country meet. This year’s event figures to be no different.

All nine Olympic League schools and 12 others from across the state will descend upon the Salt Creek Recreation Area this Saturday.

So by the end of the girls’ varsity race at noon, the last of five scheduled for Saturday morning, runners will know exactly what the pecking order is going into this fall’s league season.

That’s with one rather big exception:

The showdown between the last two Class 2A girls state champions — Sequim’s Allison Cutting (’08) and Kingston’s Ruby Roberts (’07) — will have to wait.

Cutting will spend the weekend on a recruiting trip to Boston College.

“They’ll see each other enough this year,” Sequim coach Harold Huff said of the longtime rivals. “Those two girls just race each other to death.”

Cutting’s absence doesn’t mean Salt Creek will be lacking star power.

Far from it.

There will be four ranked girls teams competing in the 3-mile race, including 1A Lynden Christian, 2A Kingston, 3A North Kitsap and 4A Central Valley.

Meanwhile, the boys race, set for 11:30 a.m., features last year’s 1A boys runner-up in Port Townsend’s Bereket Piatt as well as the high-powered Bellevue and North Kitsap boys, ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in 3A, respectively.

“In my mind [Piatt] is the favorite,” Huff said.

“I know nobody from North Kitsap can beat him. I’ll be curious to see what happens.”

Longtime Port Angeles coach Dwayne Johnson will be as well.

He brings in strong girls and boys teams to what he calls “our first home meet.”

“This is a good opener right here for us,” he said. “This seeds our league basically. This is going to tell you who you’re running with at this time.”

Alison Maxwell headlines the Port Angeles girls team, and senior John Christian the boys.

Unfortunately for the Riders, Christian is still recovering from an injury and likely will not run in Saturday’s race.

That means seniors David Branham and Cameron O’Neil will have to carry the load.

They will see some stiff competition in North Kitsap and Bellevue, not to mention a Sequim boys team that has been “a pleasant surprise,” according to Huff.

“I’ve got a race savvy veteran team,” he said. “I’ve got three seniors back, and they are all running well and are healthy.

“I don’t necessarily have that front runner, but as a team we’re pretty strong. There’s not a lot of time difference between 1-6 with this team. That’s how you win big meets sometimes.”

Wolves freshman Adrian Clifford won the freshman race at the Capital Invitational last weekend and will compete with the varsity on Saturday.

But junior Alex Jenkins will be Sequim’s pace-setter with Colby Robb and Tyler Wilson-Walters right behind.

Sequim’s girls won’t be able to field a varsity team without Cutting and No. 2 runner Audrey Lichten, who is out with an injury.

Obviously, they’ll miss a highly competitive race with the likes of Kingston, North Kitsap and Central Valley.

The race will include all the traditional trappings of Salt Creek: great views, lots of spectators and, yes, those bales of hay.

“That is part of the flavor of the event,” said Johnson, one of 35 volunteers who make the races possible.

“That is the draw right there, it’s incredible. [The runners] look forward to it.”

The event begins with the open race, free to all the public, at 9:45 a.m.

The junior varsity boys race at 10:30 a.m. and the girls JV at 11 a.m. That will be followed by the varsity boys at 11:30 a.m. and the varsity girls at noon.

Admission is free of charge.

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