PASCO — Coming down the final stretch, Leah Holmgren wanted one last reassurance her lead was safe.

The senior Ellensburg High School cross country runner quickly glanced over to her left — not to see the ample of fans cheering her on — but to see how far ahead she was of Levi Lackland Henry of Bellingham and Allyson Peterson of Hockinson.

And with the corner of her eye, Holmgren knew she was home free.

“I was looking for Levi and Allie behind me just to see how far back they were because I don’t like any surprises coming into the finish,” Holmgren chuckled.

There were no surprises.

Running down the hill to the finish line at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco with her leading the field was something Holmgren visualized all year long.

It was a reality on Saturday.

Holmgren became the first girl individual to win the state title in Ellensburg school history with a time of 18:16.4, beating out Lackland Henry by two seconds.

“I been visualizing myself running down this hill to the finish so many times throughout this year — and it paid off,” she said.

To top it off, the Ellensburg girls took home the 2A state title as a team with 83 points. Bellingham was the next closest at 102. The Bulldog girls best finish before that was fourth in 2017.

But the way the team had performed this season, going undefeated in league play and winning districts at Apple Ridge, the No. 1 ranked team in the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association for 2A was hungry for the trophy.

“What a day,” Ellensburg head coach Jeff Hashimoto said. “The girls ran fantastic. You know, there was a lot of pressure coming into this week, I tried to keep the pressure off of them and just focus on the process. It’s a huge testament to them, they were able to come through — that was just incredible. They pushed themselves for it and it was really incredible.”

Sophomore Kate Laurent finished fourth individually (18:38.7), followed by freshman Rylee Leishman (16th, 19:17), senior Madison Thompson (45th, 20:28.1), freshman Holly Fromherz (46th, 20:29.9), senior Elisa Wallace (54th, 20:37.5) and sophomore Alex Hall (65th, 20:57).

EMBRACED THE PRESSURE

The girls embraced the pressure and made the most of it. Wallace, Fromherz, Leishman and Hall all set personal records in the 5K — and it was the right day to get it done.

“We felt really strong as a team,” Laurent said, who was 58 seconds faster than last year’s state time. “We work together very well. It was a really great experience.”

Holmgren, who finished third at state in 2018 at Sun Willows, improved her time by 38 seconds.

Going into Saturday she felt confident as ever, trusting all the work she put in this season.

“My confidence is really high going into this race,” Holmgren said. “Being ranked up there in the top was really nice. I just knew that I could do it with my training and all that. And I just believed in myself and I believed in my team to help me through it and the definitely did.”

Holmgren was in third after the 1-mile mark (5:44.7), as it was tightly packed with five other girls. Once Holmgren made the loop to the second mile, she and Lackland Henry trailed Peterson by a second.

But Holmgren began to pick up the pace and made her move in the final 400 meters coming up the hill and created a gap between herself and Lackland Henry.

“That’s the race that we wanted in the end was her with the Bellingham girl,” Hashimoto said. “I thought that’s what the race would probably come out to be. Because I think in that race, Leah is going to be able to outkick. There were a couple of other people that I wanted that pace to be hard on in the middle just so that they wouldn’t be there in the end, and it turned out it was.

“There were some really strong individuals. It was a really strong individual year for 2A. So that’s really something to come out on top for Leah.”

In the final minute, Holmgren knew the title was in her grasp.

“I thought I pretty much had it because I had a little bit left in me,” she said. “But I was also running scared to death … I didn’t want them to pass me in the last minute. I was just really happy because I have been working for this for a long time.”

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