They had captured league and district titles the previous two weeks and had been runner-up at state the year before.
Yet key members of Hoquiam’s boys track team said a state team championship wasn’t even on their radar screen when they arrived at Cheney last week.
“Not at all,” said junior sprinter Nolan Hoiness.
“After district, it’s just getting there to state, going to Eastern Washington and getting PRs (that’s the top priority),” senior sprinter Tim Pelan Jr. added. “Last year, we got second and we hardly paid attention to that until the very end.”
“I didn’t think we were as good as last year,” junior high jumper-thrower Cole Smith conceded.
Yet on Saturday afternoon, at the end of a two-day meet at Eastern Washington University, the Grizzly boys were holding the state 1A championship team trophy after outscoring district rival Kalama by seven points.
It was Hoquiam’s first state track title since 1983, although the Grizzlies had won state team championships in softball, boys basketball and girls wrestling in the past decade.
“Winning the boys title was unbelievable,” said Pelan, the son of head coach Tim Pelan Sr. “That was pretty big stuff, for the team and the community as well.”
It was big enough that, thanks in large part to the efforts of district technology director Patti Reynvaan, the message board at the entrance to the school was already displaying the accomplishment when the HHS bus pulled into the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning Sunday.
The Grizzly boys were far from longshots at state. They had not only placed second to King’s of Shoreline (which had sustained significant graduation losses) in 2011, but they possessed both first-place punch and depth.
Hoquiam had won six district titles the previous week and possessed several top-five marks in the state’s 1A classification.
The peculiar nature of track and field — an essentially individual sport folded into a team concept — helped keep the Grizzlies from obsessing about the team race.
While acknowledging that his team had a shot at team honors, Tim Pelan Sr. had largely downplayed that goal entering the meet.
“I’d like to see us individually do well,” he said last week. “The team stuff is secondary.”
Most of the Grizzlies, in fact, were unaware of the team standings until midway through the second day’s program.
Hoiness received his first inkling that something special could be brewing after anchoring a victorious 4x100-meter relay team.
“I saw we were only a couple of points behind Kalama and we had people in more (remaining) events than they did,” he related.
It wasn’t until the 200 meters — one of the last running events on the program — that Tim Pelan Jr. was aware that his team was close. His father, he said, stressed the importance of picking up points in that event.
When Hoiness and Pelan placed fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 200, the Grizzlies were in front to stay with defending state champion Smith still to compete in the high jump.
“I think (I knew) when we were about to start the high jump and I saw my dad jumping up and down, as happy as I’ve ever seen him,” Pelan said in recalling a scene he said he’ll never forget.
Smith providing the icing on the cake by successfully defending his high jump title — and breaking his week-old school record in the process by clearing 6-10. With Naches Valley’s Thane Pierson going 6-8 and Tenino’s Darrin Love 6-6, Smith’s winning mark of 6-4 in 2011 wouldn’t have made the top three this year.
“I think it pushed me,” Smith said of the tough competition. “Only in a couple of meets did I have competition. Thane Pierson and Darrin Love pushed me a lot.”
The HHS junior thanked jumping coach Chad Allan for his assistance in the high jump and his sister Mackenzie, a four-time NCAA Division III All-American at Redlands University in California, for her role in his considerable improvement in the javelin. He placed sixth at state in the latter event, one place behind teammate Evan Erickson.
Smith had he had “no idea of what the scores were” when he began the high jump. That was probably just as well, given the state of his nervous system.
“Even in the past week, I was terrified,” he admitted. “Everybody expected to win and I was thinking what if I don’t win. I was really nervous.”
Hoquiam’s other state title came in the sprint relay — a triumph aided by the contributions of a pair of first-year tracksters and perhaps by bulletin-board material.
Hoiness and Pelan returned from last year’s state 4x100-meter championship foursome. The Grizzlies, however, graduated the other two members — Ben Erhart and state 100-meter champion Jerid Ronquillo — with few experienced candidates to replace them.
“I was nervous we weren’t even going to have a (competitive) 4x100 team,” Hoiness said.
First-year runners Paul Girts and Tyler White, however, stepped into the breach — although neither had committed to track until a couple of weeks prior to the season. Pelan Jr. credits his mother, Pam, with helping convince Girts and White to turn out.
Hoquiam had outdueled Freeman for the 2011 sprint relay crown. The Scotties from southeast of Spokane possessed a slightly faster pre-state mark this year and were the focus of a lengthy article in Friday’s edition of Spokane’s Spokesman-Review in which team members had vowed revenge on the Grizzlies.
“I showed Nolan the paper that morning and he was like I was, he wasn’t going to be denied,” Pelan Jr. said. “By Saturday, we were focused as ever.”
The Grizzlies won the event with surprising ease as Freeman, experiencing difficulty with one of its handoffs, wound up third.
As is usually the case with championship teams, the Grizzlies also received some good fortune at state.
They picked up additional points in the sprints, for example, when Newport’s Jake Wiley (the possessor of the state’s fastest 1A 100-meter time) pulled a hamstring in the 400-meter prelims and was unable to compete in the finals.
Hoiness believes improved depth in the throwing events, where Erickson, Smith and Joseph Winn collected valuable state points, was a key to putting the Grizzlies over the top.
Smith isn’t entirely buying that argument.
“Those guys,” he said, pointing to Hoiness and Pelan, “just carried us.”
With much of this year’s squad scheduled to return, the Grizzly boys figure to again be in the team title hunt in 2013.
“We have more depth coming back,” Hoiness noted. “The hardest thing will be not having Timmy here to push me.”
Pelan, however, said he plans to work out occasionally with the Grizzlies while he attends Grays Harbor College next year.
With graduation and summer activities looming, the Grizzlies have little time to enjoy last weekend’s feat.
“I was trying to savor it, but now that (off-season) football has started, it’s hard,” related Hoiness, a standout running back in football. “I’m excited for football, but I can’t wait for track to start because I think we’ll be really good.”
Rick Anderson is The Daily World sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or via e-mail at email@example.com