After devising strategy after strategy in four races against her rival this season - and falling just short each time - Alli Cutting went with a new approach.
"I decided to run my own race," said the Sequim junior. "It definitely worked."
No kidding. Cutting found a way to do something no other runners have, beating defending champ Ruby Roberts of Kingston (and everyone else, for that matter) at the class 2A state cross country championships in Pasco.
Cutting's scintillating finish capped a weekend that saw Sequim's girls finish fourth and boys take 11th place overall, one of the top combined finishes in school history.
Sequim's Audrey Lichten was 20th and Laura Moser took 25th while Christina Bruce (44th) and Zoei Zbaraschuk (58th) helped the Wolves' girls make it to the medal stand for the second time in three years.
"I think they ran their best race of the year," Sequim coach Harold Huff said. "They ran a course that's 30 seconds slower, maybe more (than the district course) and every one of them ran as good or a better time than at districts. They were just primed. They did awesome."
After placing in the top 10 the past two years, senior Kenny Russell led the boys with a 16:50 mark and 36th place overall. He was followed by Colby Robb in 76th, Alex Jenkins in 84th, Tyler Wilson-Walters in 87th and Alex Clifford in 111th.
"I think Kenny is a bit disappointed but he shouldn't be - every boys' race, 2A, 3A and 4A, was so much more competitive than last year," Huff said. "The guys ran as good of times as district (on a slower course). I was as happy for the guys as for the ladies."
Cutting's first state title is Sequim's second in three years, this coming on the heels of Stephanie Marcy's 2006 championship run.
But this girls' finale, like four other races featuring Sequim and Kingston this season, was about Cutting and Roberts.
Through a mile-and-a-half, the lead pack was trimmed to five or six runners, with Sehome's Annie Moore leading the way. Moore faded quickly after that, and at the two-mile mark it was Cutting, Roberts and Shannon Porter of Hockinson vying for first.
"I knew if I stuck with Ruby I'd be safe," Cutting recalled. "Those two were leading back and forth (and) I just kind of stayed out of it."
At two-and-a-half miles, Cutting was right on Roberts' shoulder, looking for her moment. It came when, with about three-tenths of a mile to go, the path at Sun Willows Golf Course begins a series of steep, rolling bumps.
There, Sequim coach Harold Huff noted, is where Cutting's hill-running strength kicked in.
"Once you get into up-down (terrain), she's in her element," Huff said. "I knew then she had it."
Cutting got ahead of Roberts, pushed through the series of hills and raced to the finish line in 18:25, nine seconds ahead of Roberts.
"That last stretch is a straight downhill. I knew that she could catch me," Cutting said. "I just made sure that didn't happen."
While Cutting was breaking free for the title, Sequim's other runners were posting solid times to boost them in the team standings. They finished in a virtual tie for third place with Squalicum, but the Storm took third with the sixth-place runner tiebreaker. Sehome took the overall team title while Cedarcrest was second.
On the boys' side, Sequim already was in a hole when senior Ben Ohnstad, their No. 2 runner for most of the season, went down with a leg injury. Ohnstad twisted an ankle a week before the Nov. 1 district meet and practiced little before districts Huff said. But at that meet, Ohnstad finished well behind his normal pace and Huff found that his runner actually had fractured his fibula.
Despite losses of Russell, Ohnstad and Clifford to graduation, Sequim's 2009 boys cross country team looks loaded. Robb, Jenkins and Wilson-Walters are back, along with two freshmen, Ricky Amundson and Joel Christopher, who both ran at Saturday's state meet.
"If these guys go out and train, they're going to be right back in the mix," Huff said.
The new girls squad, Huff said, will need to recruit after losing top runners Moser, Bruce and Alyssa Stratton to graduation.
Still, whoever runs for the Wolves will have good footsteps to follow in Cutting, the state champ. The junior said she got plenty of help herself out on the course, keeping in mind a verse from the book of Isaiah that reads, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."
"Throughout the whole past year, I've grown a lot in my faith," she said. "I thank God. Our team had a ... prayer on the podium. I think ultimately he was with the team."
State meet notes:
Russell's rival, Quinton Decker of Port Townsend, was the class 1A state champ, winning the crown (15:56) by 14 seconds over teammate Bereket Piatt ... Port Angeles junior John Christian finished 36th overall in the boys' 3A race while senior Brad Garrett was 59th and senior Taylor Hansen was 71st ... Forks junior Chanda Romney was third in the girls' 1A race and the team finished 15th in the overall standings ... Mead won the boys' 4A team title while Eastlake edged Gig Harbor by a single point for the girls' 4A crown ... North Central (Spokane) easily took the boys' 3A title while Mercer Island was tops in the 3A girls ranks ... Lakeside High (Nine Mile Falls) was tops among 1A boys teams while King's (Seattle) was best among 1A girls ... Northwest Christian-Lacey took home both boys' and girls' B team championships.