Rounding the final turn and gearing up for a sprint finish at the Sunfair Invitational, Drew Schreiber was in the lead but on his left was a shadow.
There was no mystery for the Eisenhower senior. He knew it was Canadian Nathan Wadhwani, with whom he had dueled from one end of Franklin Park to the other in a breakaway tandem. But the shadow was also symbolic of his cross country history, which was always solid but paled compared to his track resume.
Presented with such a meaningful crossroads, Schreiber conceded nothing and gained everything against his shadows, edging Wadhwani in an epic finish that produced two of the fastest times in the 40-year history of the Northwest’s largest prep cross country meet. Just over two weeks after struggling to third place in a league meet on the same course, he blistered the three-mile layout in 14 minutes, 55.9 seconds — a half second ahead of the gritty Wadhwani and good for third on Sunfair’s illustrious all-time list.
In one race, Schreiber literally became an entirely new runner.
“Honestly, today I learned how to run cross country for real,” he said in a crowd of teammates. “It’s the best feeling ever, and just an amazing finish.”
Anyone who saw it would agree.
Simply being in that position around the final bend was a breakthrough for Schreiber, who has 1:51 track credentials in the 800 but who never won a big cross country meet and was 24th at last year’s state championships. And on his tail was a highly decorated British Columbia prep who would not give in.
“We had run at a faster tempo than I ever had so I wondered if I would have a sprint at the end. Would I be able to keep this up or not?,” Schreiber said. “We were trading off and working together. Coming on to the homestretch, I had a couple strides on him and didn’t hear him. But with the sun behind us, I saw his shadow.”
With hundreds of runners, fans and coaches urging them on, Schreiber felt Wadhwani closing the gap by increments on the inside and over the final 50 yards he called desperately on his natural speed — and it was there. He flew under the finish clock and raised his arms in stunned triumph while Wadhwani clutched his head with both hands.
Schreiber’s time has only been bettered by two Mead runners — Matt Davis’ course record of 14:48 in 1993 and Chris Lewis’ 14:52 from 1987. Wadhwani (14:56.4) moved into a tie for fourth all-time with Carroll’s Robert Price, who continues to be Sunfair’s official starter.
Prior to the race, and with the memory of his last effort in Franklin Park resulting in a modest time of 16:22, Schreiber had no such expectations.
“I came here thinking I’d stay with the competition as long as I could, kick it in and help the team as much as I could,” he explained. “But when we got to the top of the terraces it felt like everybody kind of shut down except for the guy (Wadhwani) leading the race. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just head up there with him.’ At the end I knew I was more tired than normal because of the pace, but I still had another gear and we battled it out to the finish.”
Eisenhower coach Phil English wasn’t surprised by Schreiber’s breakthrough, just the location of it.
“With his speed and background, this isn’t his best course. Anything but, actually,” English said. “So this was just a remarkable performance. We always knew he had the strength but today is when it really showed.”
Schreiber wasn’t the only Eisenhower runner with a career performance on Saturday.
Senior Elise Tello entered her final Sunfair meet having timed 18:53 in each of the last two years and with a personal record of 18:44 on the course. But on Saturday she blew those times away, finishing sixth in the final girls flight in 18:17.7. And so fixated on competing for her place in the top 10 she didn’t have any glue it was that fast.
“I really wasn’t paying any attention to splits. I was more focused on holding my position,” she said. “I got a pretty good start and wasn’t very far behind the leaders. I didn’t want to drop back and lose contact so I worked hard at keeping my spot. With so many talented runners I figured I was bound to get a good time.”
But a 27-second personal record?
“I couldn’t be more excited. I almost screamed when I heard the time,” she said. “I really wanted a PR but by that much — I didn’t expect that.”
Alexis Fuller, a junior from Union, broke away from a race-long battle with Boise’s Emily Hamlin and Coeur d’Alene’s Emily Callahan to win in 17:58.7.
Capped by Schreiber’s thrilling victory, Eisenhower’s boys finished third with 36 points behind Kamiakin (11) and Central Catholic of Portland (19). Ike’s girls finished seventh while Coeur d’Alene runners placed in the top three in six of the seven flights to repeat as Sunfair champions.
West Valley and Ellensburg finished second and third, respectively, among 2A boys teams behind Cheney.