Dawson Besst used to be a lacrosse junky. Until some Tahoma High School cross country runners persuaded Besst that he might be best in another sport.
Now he’s planning a trip to Pasco for the fourth consecutive year, where he’ll compete in the state cross country championships next week at Sun Willows Golf Course.
“I still watch a lot of lacrosse and a lot of my friends still play,” Besst said. “But I’m liking what I’m doing now.”
He spent his Saturday meandering through the fog at the Central Meadow of Chambers Creek Properties, just beyond the U.S. Open golf course. Besst placed second in the 4A district championships, also knows at the Westside Classic, behind Camas’ Daniel Maton, and he helped Tahoma place second as a team behind Camas, 56-92.
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Maton finished in 15 minutes, 47.5 seconds and Besst wasn’t far behind at 16:01.5, followed closely by Todd Beamer’s AJ Chopra (16:04.1), Graham-Kapowsin’s Jesse Kaas (16:04.4) and Puyallup’s Colin Monaghan (16:07.4).
The top seven teams qualified for the state championships next Saturday in Pasco, so on goes Tahoma, Bellarmine Prep (which won the 4A state team title last year), Curtis, Olympia, South Kitsap and Enumclaw.
Besst said he wanted to run a relaxed race on Saturday, which is partly why he finished behind Maton. He beat Maton at state last year to finish in sixth place. But he’s hoping for a big finish to his senior year, and maybe a chance for Tahoma to win its second team title in three years.
“Today was all about relaxing and controlling my breathing and working on focusing and preparing for the state meet,” Besst said. “And I definitely think I’m prepared. I’m really looking forward to Pasco.”
He only joined cross country because some of its former top runners recruited him, such as Tristan Houser (who now runs at Utah State) and Graeme Schroeder (Colorado State). They were the top two runners on the Bears’ 2015 state title team, with Schroeder placing third behind state-champion Jack Yearian of Belalrmine Prep, who is now at Oregon.
“I had played lacrosse since the third grade and I didn’t start running until about seventh,” Besst said. “I just ran for fun. But I decided to give lacrosse up so I could focus on track. That was a big decision for me, but I really wanted to run and it’s a great group of guys on the cross country team.
“Some of my teammates, they had a big impact on my life. That state team, all of those seniors pushed me and took me under their wings and made me love the sport.”
And Besst was a lacrosse midfielder, so he ran a lot, anyway.
“There’s something about being a really good athlete that makes a good cross country runner,” Tahoma coach Jeff Brady said. “You know kids who are athletes are also going to be really tough competitors. Every time Dawson steps on the line we know he’s going go to 110 percent, and when I think about next weekend – you know he’s going to compete.
“Thankfully he jumped on our side and decided to be a runner,” Brady laughed.
Tahoma’s girls team finished in third, behind Camas and Skyview, but senior Breanna Glover took second place in 18:55.5, behind Camas’ Emma Jenkins. But the Bears, Emerald Ridge, Curtis and South Kitsap were among the teams to clinch spots to state.
Glover placed fifth at state a year ago. But she’s got other skills, too.
“Breanna, by far, is the most talented person on our team,” Brady laughed. “If you ever listen to her sing – man. She’s on the choir, she’s with ‘We the People’ (a constitution and U.S. government competition team), she takes AP classes. She’s good at every thing she does.
“And her and Dawson were the same – they had older kids to look up to and now they are the kids taking over the leadership and being that for the younger kids.”
James Mwaura is still very fast.
The Lincoln High School senior and nation’s fifth-ranked runner, as ranked by DyeStat.com, won his third consecutive district cross country championship in 15:30.60, beating second-place Peter Smith of Gig Harbor, who won the 6A state title in Virginia last year, by 28 seconds.
“He’s a really, really good runner,” Smith said. “It is intense to race him. I’m improving and I hope to be able to compete with him in the future, but he can just hold it longer.”
Anyone in Virginia he raced like Mwaura?
“No,” Smith said. “This guy – he’s a beast, man.”
But Gig Harbor has its eyes on another price – the state team title. It won the district championship with 60 points to second-place Central Kitsap’s 108 and third-place Wilson’s 131.
Wilson’s Casey Bennett finished in third at 16:14.2, with Gig Harbor’s Bradley Peloquin taking fourth (16:25.6) and Gig Harbor’s Nolan Carroll finishing fifth (16:25.7).
Gig Harbor won back-to-back state cross country titles in 2014 and 2013.
But Mwaura is going for his second consecutive state cross country title. And this comes after he finished in a blistering 14:54.3 to win the Nike Portland XC title on Sept. 30.
He ranks just behind two runners from Illinois, one from Texas and Brodey Hasty of Tennessee in the DyeStat national rankings.
“I feel I belong in that top five for sure,” Mwaura said. “It’s really surreal to me, though. Winning three times in a row here. It’s unreal. It means a lot to me because not most people can do that.”
Central Kitsap freshman Maya Nichols continues her break out campaign, winning the girls district championship in 18:53.6, edging Emily Phelps of Fort Vancouver. Central Kitsap won the 3A girls title with 86 points, edging second-place Stadium, which had 86.
Annika Van Vlack was Stadium’s top finisher, taking fifth in 19:33.
Steilacoom won the 2A boys district team title with 57 points, with North Kitsap finishing second with 91 points. Sophomore Zach Koivisto was its top finisher, taking fourth in 17:18.8, with teammate Broghan Zimmerman right behind him in fifth at 17:28.6.
Lindbergh’s Tyler Hughey won the individual title in 16:39.8.
Steilacoom’s girls finished in second in the 2A girls championship as a team with 118 points behind champion Port Angeles’ 90.
Orting’s Madeline Drennen placed second place (20:10.30) individually behind North Kitsap’s Madison Zosa (19:19.7).
Charles Wright swept the team titles, with its boys team scoring 41 points to edge Klahowya (60) and the girls scoring 24 to beat Klahowya (44).
Adam Berg was the Tarriers’ top finisher on the boys side in 17:02.6 for second place. Brenna Sclair finished second in the girls race in 20:48.9.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677