They’re running tired. They’re running with heavy legs.
But as a group, the Tahoma Bears still have run faster and better the past four weeks than any other cross country team — boys or girls — in the South Puget Sound League North Division.
The Bears proved that point not once, but twice last Wednesday afternoon at Lake Wilderness Park.
Putting their respective unbeaten records on the line against similarly unbeaten counterparts from Auburn Riverside, both Tahoma teams raced to the division dual-meet championship on the final day of the regular season.
Lauren Clawson and Hannah Mittelstaedt set the pace for the girls, going 1-2 as the Bears beat the Ravens, 23-36. Coupled with a 15-45 victory against Auburn, Tahoma — which has lost just one dual meet since moving up to Class 4A and the SPSL North in 1997 — wrapped up an 8-0 campaign.
“We’ve been pushing each other a lot more this year,” said Mittelstaedt. “And we’ve been having a lot of difficult workouts.”
Same story — and same results — on the boys side. While no one was able to catch up with Auburn Riverside senior Julian-Blake Cowan, the Bears bunched up nicely behind him, with Kelton Sears leading a 2-4-5-6 finish that locked up a 25-32 victory against the Ravens. Tahoma added a 15-46 win over Auburn to seal an 8-0 deal.
“Coach (Gary Conner) has been running us super hard, so all our legs are dead right now,” Sears said. “We’re definitely running well as a team. When he lets up and our legs are light, we’ll be faster.”
Rigorous training through the dual-meet season is standard procedure at Tahoma — Conner acknowledged as much.
But it’s hard to argue with success: By the time they get to postseason meets, which began yesterday at Fort Steilacoom Park with SPSL sub-district, the Bears are either at the top of the pile, or very close to it.
“I keep giving it to them, and they keep taking it,” he said with a smile. “Our girls are a little banged up, but they keep going. And if we can keep five guys healthy, I predict one, two or three (as a team at state).”
Tahoma certainly kept going Wednesday afternoon. On the 3.1-mile layout at Lake Wilderness, Clawson cruised home in 19 minutes, 17 seconds. Mittelstaedt was eight seconds behind her in the No. 2 spot, and Molli Bahlenhorst was fifth in 19:35.
All three of those girls have led the way for the Bears in at least one race so far. Clawson likes it that way.
“We’re grateful for pushing each other this year,” she said.
From the start of the boys race, Sears knew that Riverside star Cowan would be well out in front. Rather than give chase, he and teammates Casey Campbell, Phil Lussier and Jimmy Creek focused on keeping the rest of the Ravens behind them.
Only Kenny Krotzer, who finished third, was able to get in the middle of that Tahoma foursome.
“They have a couple of real good runners.” Sears said. “But beyond that, I think we knew as a team we were stronger.”