PASCO, Wash. — Leah Holmgren's inexorable rise to the top on Saturday had a mirror image — her own team.
Ellensburg's star senior enjoyed the full measure of her richly deserved day, capturing the Class 2A state cross country title after leaving Sun Willows Golf Course with third- and fifth-place finishes in previous years.
In those lead-up seasons since 2016, the Bulldogs came away with one fourth-place trophy and two near-misses in fifth.
But on this day there was no more looking up. No more hanging on the edges of the podium.
With sophomore Kate Laurent doubling down on the team's front-end prowess in fourth, Ellensburg was solid from top to bottom and won the school's first state cross country crown by 19 points over Bellingham.
"It's pretty incredible," said coach Jeff Hashimoto, who presided over a girls team in Pasco for the eighth straight year. "There was a lot of pressure on these kids (the team was ranked No. 1 for the last month), and what I'm most proud of is how they handled that. How they came through and performed so well together."
More than anything, the winning formula was a trickle-down approach that each girl felt made the difference.
Leah inspired Kate, Kate inspired freshman Rylee Leishman, who emerged as a force as the team's No. 3 runner, and two seniors — Madison Thompson and Elisa Wallace — provided experience for all as four-year state qualifiers.
"I believed in myself, but also in my teammates to help me through it," said Holmgren after taking control over the last half mile and winning in 18 minutes, 16 seconds on the 5,000-meter course. "This team has been so much help to me. Kate pushed me all season and I was scared she'd catch me. We all worked together, and after last week (at regionals) I knew we had the confidence to do this."
Laurent, who was 14th here as a freshman, was not shy with her intent, running with the lead pack for a mile and holding her ground throughout. Her time of 18:38 was nearly a minute faster than last year.
"It was kind of a new experience running up near the front, but having Leah there helped so much," she said. "She's an incredible influence and I wouldn't have done this without her. This is crazy because when I started last season I didn't really like running that much. Now I love it and my teammates are everything to me."
With Leishman catching the last podium spot in 16th, the Bulldogs were in complete command with three runners in. Then came the matter of closing the deal, and Thompson led freshman Holly Fromherz across one second apart to do just that.
Holmgren, who has committed to Idaho, showed a veteran's patience and savvy to run down her title, Ellensburg's first since Pete Vernie won the AA boys race in 1975. She mingled in a group of six at one mile, stalked Hockinson's Allyson Peterson at two miles and made separation soon after with Bellingham's Livi Lackland Henry.
"I visualized myself running down to the finish so many times this year," she smiled. "I felt good going up the last hill and my confidence was really high. I've raced Livi a couple times this year and she's always strong. I'm just proud of myself that I had enough to finish it."
Ellensburg's individual and team victories set the pace during a remarkable day for the CWAC's girls, who claimed six podium spots.
Despite a fractured tibia that forced her to miss half the year, Selah's Nicole DeHerrera placed seventh in 18:55 — eight places and 52 seconds better than last year. That led the Vikings, who were unranked coming in, to fifth place.
Working together for most of the race, Wapato freshman Isabela Alvarado and sophomore teammate Crystal Colin finished 14th and 15th, respectively, in 19:05 and 19:10. It was sweet satisfaction for Colin, who missed the podium by one place last year.
Ellensburg, West Valley-Spokane, Selah and Pullman, the four teams to come out of the CWAC-GNL regional, finished 1-4-5-6.