Lincoln High School’s James Mwaura finished eighth a year ago at the state cross country championships.
That gave him a small taste of success.
So this offseason, the junior from Tacoma worked extra hard to improve on that finish.
On Saturday at Sun Willows, Mwaura stunned a boys 3A field by running away with a championship at the WIAA State High School Cross Country Championships.
Mwaura ran the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 32.9 seconds — almost 12 seconds ahead of the runner-up, Mt. Spokane’s Hayden Dressel.
“(Coach Duane Lee) and I talked about a plan last year after state,” said Mwaura. “I trained this whole summer. I had a lot of mileage. I was doing 75 to 80 miles a week.”
Mwaura held the lead almost from the outset. By the first mile, he had at least a 50-yard lead.
But within the next half-mile, he hit a wall.
“I felt a little pain,” he said. “I just had to push through it.”
From that point on, the race was his.
“I looked back a couple times,” Mwaura admitted. “But when other guys started to close in, I kicked it up a notch.”
As he crossed the finish line, Mwaura pumped his fist in exultation.
In a race that usually has powerhouses North Central and Kamiakin runners up front, Mwaura surprised the eastside runners. Now he’ll be the guy with the target on his back next year.
North Central won the team title again, giving the Spokane school 11 consecutive state crowns.
Gig Harbor’s Bradley Peloquin was sixth with a 15:57.7.
Mwaura wasn’t the only area boys champion, as Luke Schilter of Northwest Christian in Lacey led from start to finish to finally get a victory.
Schilter had finished second each time the previous three years — from freshman to junior year — and wasn’t about to let a final race slip away.
But it wasn’t easy. The early morning dense fog — that lifted by noon — made for some slippery conditions.
Schilter actually fell twice out on the course. But his lead was so big that he never trailed in the race.
By the time he finished in 15:56.4, Schilter paid for it as he collapsed in the runners’ corral. Other runners forced him to get up, but he couldn't stand up straight, and his hands were glued to his knees.
“My time wasn’t very fast,” Schilter admitted. “I’m tired because it was so cold out there (44 degrees). My legs kept locking up.”
But the senior fought through the pain.
“I was confident,” he said. “I put in the work. I knew I wanted it more than anybody else did. I’m really happy with it. And I’d rather have done this as a senior than say, as a sophomore.”
Schilter’s first-place finish helped propel the Navigators to a third consecutive state team title, scoring 64 points.
Northwest Christian coach Larry Weber was excited about the team title. But he was ecstatic for Schilter getting his title.
“He ran well,” said Weber. “I’m happy for him. He wanted to win. But he’s a pretty grounded young man. Had he not won, he’d be OK.”
Bellarmine Prep snared the team title, outscoring Central Valley 70-105, as Cameron Wyman led the way.
Wyman had a 12th-place finish (eighth in team points), but he had other teammates finish 18, 19 and 20.
“We believed we could be one of three or four teams to win the state title when the season began,” said Bellarmine coach Keith Wren. “At the beginning of the season our goal was to win it. We came in with a plan and executed it beautifully.”
Yacine Guermali of Camas won the individual title with a time of 15:12.8, the fastest of any boy all day.
Tahoma’s Dawson Besst finished sixth in 15:41.
Northwest Christian of Lacey had won nine consecutive state team titles before last season. Then the Navigators finished third last season.
On Saturday, the team improved to second, losing out to Liberty Lake.
Juniors Ellie Summers and Megan McSheffrey finished fourth and fifth, respectively, for the Navigators.
And they did it in a dense fog that made it hard to see 75 yards ahead.
“The people we were looking for ahead of us, it was hard,” Summers admitted. “It made us refocus on what we were supposed to do.”
Freshman Novie McCabe of Liberty Lake won the race with a time of 18:51.9.
Tahoma’s Breanna Glover finished sixth with a time of 18:22.4, while Puyallup’s Rachel Kastama (18:27.8) was seventh.
Lake Stevens sophomore Taylor Roe repeated as state champion, with the fastest time of any girl at 17:34.1. Roe won while running for Lake Stevens. Last year, she won while running for Kamiak.
Issaquah took the team title with 90 points.
Stanford-bound Jordan Oakes of Holy Names Academy repeated as 3A girls champion with a time of 17:44. She and her teammates also won the team title with 53 points. … Erin Mullins of Cascade of Leavenworth took the individual 1A girls title with a time of 18:05.2. The Northwest School of Seattle won the team title with 79 points. … Selah took the 2A girls team title with 92 points, while Pullman’s Elyria Kabasenche, a junior, won the individual title with an 18:41.3 time. White River’s Courtney Gelmini finished sixth. … Tibebu Proctor of The Northwest School in downtown Seattle repeated as 1A boys champion, as he easily beat the field in 15:22.4. Deer Park took the team title with 83 points. … Ridgefield’s Seth Griffith (15:47.6) won the boys 2A title, while Sehome captured the team title with 97 points.