PASCO, Wash. — Alexis Redfield didn’t save her kick for last. This time she didn’t need it.
A year after chasing down Erin Mullins a few strides from the finish to win the Class 1A state cross country title, the Zillah senior returned to Sun Willows Golf Course on Saturday and duplicated the victory but not the tactics, this time overpowering her Cascade rival over the full final mile.
It was nothing short of a stunning outcome even for a defending champion, given how soundly Mullins had dominated the Sunfair Invitational — with Zillah there — just a month ago. But Redfield stalked her pace-setting prize, who hadn’t lost a race all season, for two miles and then took confident charge well before the final hill and powered away for a 9.2-second victory.
Redfield’s time of 18:06.6 was the fastest by a Yakima-area runner since the course was lengthened to 5,000 meters in 1997 and was the launching point for the Leopards’ second-place trophy.
Coach Ken Johnson felt something special was coming, but this?
“Wow, Alexis couldn’t have peaked any better,” he said. “Getting beat by so much at Sunfair was not the worst thing. Erin was in tip-top form but we still had a month to go. Alexis knew what she had to do and got to work. She’s a fierce competitor.”
Redfield ran 36 seconds faster than last year but her strategy was always measured against Mullins and her expected moves. It seemed likely she would try to break away from Redfield in the middle mile to avoid another sprint finish. And she tried to, opening as much as 15-meter lead just after the opening mile, but the gap did nothing but steadily shrink and disappear.
“I didn’t want to go too fast and have nothing left for the end. I wanted to have something for the finish if it came down to that again,” she explained. “With somewhere around a mile to go I was right with her and felt good and strong. I was a little nervous but as a senior, this was it for me. I had the energy to go for it and not wait.
“For my team, my family and my coaches, I wanted to make sure to give it everything I had.”
For the Leopards, Redfield’s resolve was contagious.
Zillah put two other runners on the individual podium as sophomore Kalen Johnson (19:37) was 11th and fearless freshman Madison Elizondo (20:04) was 16th. Sophomores Faith Mason and Hayley Mason rounded out the scoring team solidly — so well, in fact, that Zillah, which came in ranked second, nearly knocked out season-long front-runner Northwest of Seattle.
Northwest checked in with 69 points while Zillah finished with 74 — a small fraction of last year’s total of 195 when the Leopards just missed a trophy in fifth. With so much youth and Kalen Johnson as leader for the next two years, Zillah is in good shape to continue the trophy run despite the graduation of a two-time champion.
“I so happy and proud of everybody,” Kalen Johnson said. “Even though we didn’t get first, I felt we all ran our best and did all we could do. State can be scary for a freshman and Madison didn’t freak out — she ran great. We should be proud of the way we all ran.”
It was especially satisfying for Kalen’s dad, Ken, who brought a girls team to state for the 12th straight year. But it was the first time on the podium since winning the title in 2004 and placing second in 2005.
“We went in with the idea of a top-four finish but internally we were gunning for Northwest,” he said. “Northwest ran a great race and so did we. Every girl ran her best race and that’s what I’m so proud of — that they believed in themselves.”
• Goldendale sophomore Dillon Rising, the SCAC district champion, got on the 1A boys state podium, placing 12th in 16:39.
• In the 2B-1B boys, Bickleton senior Andrew Gannon placed 11th and White Swan’s four-time state qualifier Tarell Manjarrez earned his best finish ever in 13th.