Alli Cutting's new strategy - take the lead early and keep it - seems to work.
The Sequim High junior returned from an illness to top the girls' field at the Bellevue Invitational Saturday, running the flat, 5,000-meter course in 19:03 and helping the girls take eighth place among 24 varsity teams.
"This is the only race I've ever led (all the way) before; I'm usually the runner who tries to hang back," Cutting said. "This time I felt like practicing something new, a strategy."
With a meet against rival Ruby Roberts of Kingston looming, Cutting raced to an early lead and fended off all comers, including Emilie Gilbert of Bellevue, Cara Strodel of Cedarcrest and Jade Borseth of Stanwood.
Cutting won by three seconds.
Sequim got solid performances from several runners at Bellevue, an invite dividing teams into five races: the team's top two, then 3-4 runners, 5-6, 7-8 and finally junior varsity.
On the girls' side, sophomore Audrey Lichten supplemented Cutting's run with a 10th-place finish in the 1-2 race while Zoei Zbaraschuk and Laura Moser were 19th and 20th in the 3-4 race. Christina Bruce was 13th in the 5-6 race.
On the boys' side, Sequim senior Kenny Russell took ninth with a 16:38 finish while teammate Ben Ohnstad was 24th, finishing in 17:06.
In the 3-4 race, Colby Robb took 21st and Tyler Wilson-Walters was 23rd. Alex Jenkins (17th) and Alex Clifford (26th) were Sequim's entries in the 5-6 race.
Cutting sees her new strategy - racing ahead, then fending off surges from other top runners - as a way to take down Roberts, the reigning 2A cross country champ. Sequim hosts Kingston and North Kitsap Oct. 1 at Robin Hill Farm Park. Kingston also has Roberts' speedy sister Marina, while North Kitsap boasts top runner Annelise Weinmann.
"I'm thinking it's going to be a fight between Ruby and me," Cutting said. "I think that (strategy) is what I'm going to have to do to beat her. I'm just glad it's on a home course."
Wolves win first league meet
Both of Sequim's cross country squads cruised to easy victories in their first Olympic League meet of the season last week, speeding past Klahowya and host Bremerton at NAD park, even without Cutting.
With Cutting out with a head cold and teammate Bruce slowed by the same kind of illness, the female Wolves (17 points) still easily topped an outmatched Klahowya squad (42). Lichten led the field, cruising the 2.4-mile, hilly course in 16:43, followed by teammates Moser in 17:22 and Zbaraschuk in 17:50. Despite the illness, Bruce managed to place fifth with an 18:18 mark; Alyssa Stratton was sixth at 19:11. Klahowya's Angie Hanners was the only non-Sequim runner to crack the top six.
"It was nice; Audrey got to win a race," Sequim coach Harold Huff joked. "It's a three-loop course (in Bremerton). I had them run extremely within themselves the first two loops. On the last loop, (I told them to) put the hammer down. They were all just grinning ear-to-ear."
On the boys' side, Russell led a strong Sequim contingent that finished with 23 points, 18 ahead of runner-up Klahowya and 25 better than Bremerton.
Russell finished in 13:55, followed closely by runner-up Ohnstad at 14:00. Sequim's Wilson-Walters was fourth (14:24) while teammates Jenkins (seventh, 14:50) and Clifford (ninth, 15:02) were close behind.
David Fry (third) led Bremerton with a 14:15 finish while Derris Davis was Klahowya's top runner, finishing fifth (14:32).
"I was extremely happy with everybody," Huff said.
He was particularly pleased with Sequim's boys junior varsity squad, a crew that took the top five places in the JV race and who would have beaten several of Klahowya and Bremerton's varsity runners.
Huff said he expects several of those runners - Joe Dapcevich, Ricky Amundson and Drake Apablasa in particular - to vie for Sequim's varsity crew.
Washington Cross Country Girls 2A Coaches Poll*
1. Sehome, 2. Squalicum, 3. Cedarcrest, 4. Deer Park, 5. Sequim, 6. South Whidbey, 7. West Valley (Spokane), 8. Cheney, 9. Riverside, 10. Kingston
* - Voted on by Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association