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Victorious Vikings at high tide

Jun. 9—Representing a program that was revived from a period of dormancy only a few years ago, at a high school with no facilities for the sport, Garfield-Palouse track and field does not bear the superficial earmarks of a banner franchise.

Nevertheless, with last month's Washington Class 1B state championships now in the books, the Vikings may rightly boast that they produced the Tribune area's only team state title in any prep sport this spring season — and gained WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) team of the month status in the process. Gar-Pal has now won two consecutive girls team titles, taking fourth on the boys side each time.

A team that "feels like home"

As of the mid-to-late 2010s, Garfield-Palouse had failed to field a track team at all for some time. The presence in the community of rising athletes like then-middle schooler Kennedy Cook (who went on to dominate at State in girls sprinting last year and now runs for Western Washington University, and whose father Chris Cook is among the founding members of Gar-Pal's current coaching staff) helped generate interest in bringing it back.

Since their team was reestablished, the Vikings have maintained an arrangement to travel to Oakesdale — in spite of the fact that there is no track facility there, either — to hold joint practices with the Nighthawks.

How did a program under these circumstances find such a powerful current of success?

Freshly graduated senior distance running standout Lola Edwards feels that Gar-Pal's results stem in part, ironically, from placing less direct emphasis on winning.

"I think it's all because of my team and my coaches, honestly," she said. "Doing other sports was not as fun as track and cross country were to me, because in other sports, I felt like it was all about winning. In track and cross country it was just doing your best. It didn't matter if you won; it didn't matter if you lost; you still got treated the same.

"It has a whole different setting, environment, than other sports that really drew me to, it and it just feels like home."

Distance coach Corey Laughary emphasized that this year's title was a true "team effort," and the facts bear that out. Gar-Pal had posted multiple individual gold medal finishes last year en route to its overall victory, but went without any this time around, relying instead on an abundance of medal finishes across a wide range of events to amass its 79-point total, which beat out Mt. Vernon Christian at 65 and Pope John Paul II (Lacey, Wash.) at 64.

A little gold star

The Vikings' breakout success story of the season came from multi-event talent Kyra Brantner, whose freshman campaign was all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she had recovered from open heart surgery for a coronary abnormality less than a year earlier. Brantner ran a personal best time of 12.79 seconds in the 100-meter dash to lead the way in prelims during the state meet in Yakima, then shaved a hundredth-of-a-second off that mark in the finals, only to be beaten out for first by a surging Giselle Ceniceros of Pateros, who ran a 12.66.

Brantner, who was nicknamed "our little gold star" by Edwards in honor of her prolific successes, also placed second in the long jump, third in the triple jump, and fourth (working with Noemie Appel, Samantha Pfaff and HettyLee Laughary) in the 400 relay.

"The sky's the limit on talent," Laughary said of Brantner.

Going the distance

As with last year, the greatest concentration of points scored by Gar-Pal came from its core of distance runners, who also helped the Vikings take second at State in cross country last fall.

Defending 3,200 champion Edwards ran a career-best time of 12:17.21, but was bested by newcomer Ruby Henry of Pope John Paul II at 11:49.76. Viking sisters Ashleigh and Courage Hightree — a pair of homeschoolers who "milk cows in the morning and the evening at their family's dairy farm, yet still show up and practice," according to Laughary, were among the top five finishers in all three distance events, with Ashleigh taking third in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.

Edwards recalled that the three of them put their heads together and made a pact to turn the tables after coming in runner-up to Pope John Paul II in cross country.

"I think being that close to a state title again in cross country really drove us distance runners for state track again," she said. "We really wanted that win."

A third consecutive state title might be a tall order for the Viking girls after the graduation of Edwards, Ashleigh Hightree, Appel, Pfaff and Zoe Laughary, but multiple standouts are returning — and junior twins Kieran and Brendan Snekvik, who have been at-or-near the front of the 1B distance pack each of the last two seasons, will look to spearhead a push for the Gar-Pal boys to take their own turn at the top of the heap.

One might hesitate to bet against the Vikings, who have shown a penchant for defying the odds.