YAKIMA, Wash. — For Ellensburg cross country coach Jeff Hashimoto, there are two points of emphasis for Saturday's state championships.
Look into the eyes of your teammates and enjoy the experience, and trust in the preparation to calm those edgy nerves.
All of Hashimoto's runners back through his 16 years with the program know that message well and this week it's getting more mileage than ever with higher stakes than ever.
Ellensburg has a top-ranked girls team in hot pursuit of the program's first state title, a strong contender for the individual victory with a young teammate clipping at her heels and a senior-lead boys team that ranks fourth with eyes on a trophy.
Busy agenda, these Bulldogs.
"We have real special groups on both sides and we want them healthy and enjoying themselves rather than getting too focused on results," Hashimoto said. "We have individual goals for every race and won't treat state any differently. The best thing about these kids is their chemistry and that will help them a lot on Saturday."
With a tweak in this year's schedule at Sun Willows Golf Course, all of this will happen for Ellensburg in a two-hour window with the Class 2A girls set to start at 11 a.m. followed by the 2A boys at 12:30 p.m. Last year the boys ran an hour later.
Based on Saturday's regional performance, the Bulldogs look plenty ready.
Hashimoto's girls have been ranked No. 1 for the last month and for good reason. Senior Leah Holmgren and sophomore Kate Laurent are a formidable 1-2, as they demonstrated last week with both breaking the course record at Apple Ridge, freshman Rylee Leishman is a rising young talent as the No. 3 and the remaining depth is lead by two seniors — Madison Thompson and Elisa Wallace — who will be competing at state for the fourth straight year.
"I wasn't surprised at Leah (17:35) and Kate (17:42) at regionals because they have been running some unbelievable workouts," the coach said. "Rylee's regional time was basically the same as Leah and Kate when they were freshmen, and our depth has been there for us all season."
Perennial powers Bellingham and Sehome are ranked 2-3, and defending state champion West Valley of Spokane, which Ellensburg beat by 20 points last week, is No. 4.
With five seniors and the entire scoring team back from last year's eighth-place finish in Pasco, Ellensburg's boys have been a stout trophy contender since the start of the season.
Patrick Adkisson is a reliable senior leader for the Bulldogs, having broken the school record for 5,000 meters at 15:42 last month, and classmate Baylean Bean has been a first-year revelation, placing ninth at regional one second behind Adkisson.
Seniors Isak Larson, Reese Braman, Zachary Mathias and Adkisson are all competing at state for the third straight year.
"We've been interchangeable all season behind Patrick, and even though we got through regionals with a good effort the boys looked a little tired," Hashimoto noted. "We'll get them rested up this week and I'm sure that will benefit them."
Ellensburg's boys and girls have already achieved so much with league, district and regional titles. And now it all comes down to two hours on Saturday.
Savor the moments and have fun, Hashimoto will tell them.
And let the strength and speed come out.