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Ellensburg High School’s Kate Laurent, left, Leah Holgren, and Rylee Leishman compete in a 5000 meter cross country race at Rotary Park. Holgren finished first, Laurent, second, and Leishman third.

Heading into the most important race of the season for Ellensburg High School cross country, head coach Jeff Hashimoto’s goals for the team were simple: Stay rested and embrace the final week of preparation with their fellow runners.

“There’s a lot of seniors on the team — it’s a really special group. So, trying to really help them recognize how special it is to have that group and that they need to enjoy their time,” Hashimoto said. “One is to enjoy their time together and the other is to just be healthy. Get good sleep, rest up, they’ve done an enormous amount of work.”

The Ellensburg girls have qualified for state for the eighth consecutive season, seventh for the boys.

Eight seniors in total will run for the Bulldogs one final time. Five for the boys (Patrick Adkisson, Baylen Bean, Reese Braman, Isak Larson, and Zach Mathias. And three for the girls (Leah Holmgren, Madison Thompson, and Elisa Wallace).

Both the girls and boys are coming off a District 5/6 Championship last weekend at Apple Ridge in Cowiche. In the most recent Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association poll, the Ellensburg girls were ranked first in 2A, and the boys fourth.

Holmgren, a University of Idaho commit, feels this is the girls’ chance to take home the state title for the first time in school history at Sun Willows in Pasco Saturday.

“As long as everyone has a good race, we should take it,” Holmgren said. “That’s kind of what we’re all shooting for is to all have a perfect race, and everyone putting in their part.”

While the girls as one of the favorites, so is Holmgren in the individual title. She placed third last season at state with a time of 18:54.

Holmgren is coming off a personal best and a course breaking performance at districts in the three-miler (17:35).

“I think this is definitely my shot,” she said. “And hopefully it goes well. … It’s going to take a lot of mental toughness in the second mile, and just believing in myself. And knowing my team is right there with me.”

Her sophomore teammate Kate Laurent also broke the course record last weekend with a time of 17:42 for second place honors.

With the 1-2 punch of Holmgren and Laurent leading the way, the girls lineup will also feature Rylee Leishman, Thompson, Holly Fromherz, Wallace and Alex Hall.

The boys will be led by Adkisson, who broke the school record in the 5K last month at the Hole in the Wall Invitational (15:42). He will be followed by Bean, Braman, Gabe Fjellstad, Larson, Mathias, and Theo Dittmer.

Four of the senior runners are vying at state for the third straight year, and they will look to build off their eighth place finish last season.

“For the most part, we’re going to try and stay in the head pack, kind of stay as a group,” said Bean of the team’s strategy. “We’re all pretty close in times. Just do our best.”

Not all Ellensburg runners have raced at Sun Willows Golf Course, but Hashimoto says Ellensburg’s training at North Alder Park should pay dividends.

“We did a lot of training up in North Alder Park which has a lot of rolling hills that are those little, sometimes steep hills, but a lot of transitions from up and downs, or things like that,” he said. “We’re trying to simulate the terrain on the state course and I feel like this year we did that better than ever.

“And it’s really nice because when we go to state, we look at the course, we don’t have to think about, ‘Oh, here’s how you run this’, because they been practicing running that train all the time so they know how to run it.”

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