It didn’t take long for Caleb Gentry to spot his next running phenom.
A young Riley Pyeatt and her mom Tracie were touring Sequim Middle School when Gentry, the school’s middle school cross country coach, spotted her and thought, ‘That girl is an athlete.’
“Riley didn’t even plan to run cross country,” the teacher recalls. “I sold it to her that ‘This will get you in shape for basketball.’”
Now the Sequim youth has some of the top 1.5- and two-mile times in the state. And on the track, she may be even better. The 400-meter time she ran as a seventh-grader at the league championship last year, a blistering 1:00.68, would have placed her seventh overall … at the state 2A high school championships.
“The 400 is her race,” Gentry says.
And those cross country middle distances? She’s got that covered, too.
Competitive to the core
For Riley Pyeatt, the worst thing about running isn’t slogging through the miles, the long practices, the careful intake of food-as-fuel.
“Losing. I hate it.”
Pyeatt says it with a grin. Her speed had her running with SMS’s top boy, Kristian Mingoy, for much of the season and it seemed to pay off for both, as the Timberwolves wound up sweeping league titles.
Now an eighth-grader, Pyeatt went undefeated this season. She set a personal best in the 1.5 miles with an 8:23 effort on Oct. 4 — the third-best in the nation, according to athletic.net — and cruised to a win in the North Olympic League championship on Oct. 24 with a 12:11 mark. It’s a bit off her personal best of 12:06.9 set as a seventh-grader, but still one of the top 100 in the nation.
Oh, and a full minute-and-a-half faster than the second place runner.
“And that’s without someone on her heels,” Gentry says of her cross country times. “She’s chasing a ghost.”
What makes Pyeatt different, her middle school coach says, is simply her willingness to put in the work to get faster.
“She has a gear, both physically and mentally,” Gentry says, something that’s not found in others her age.
“It’s not talent and genetics — that’s part of it — but she’s a multi-sport athlete,” Gentry says. “She makes it look effortless but only because she puts the time in. She loves the grind.
“That competition, that grit is important. This sport takes a little something special; not everyone can do it.”
It’s something the Sequim youth understands quite well. A basketball player during the winter, Pyeatt logs plenty of miles with Sequim Middle School’s cross country and track teams as well as competitions — including Junior Olympics — with the North Olympic Track Club under the tutelage of Greg Halberg.
“There’s someone always working harder than me, so I have to work hard to get what I want,” Pyeatt says.
Moving quick, moving up
One of three siblings, Pyeatt and company years back moved from Montana to Curlew, a tiny, unincorporated community in northeastern of Washington state that boasted about 170 kids in the kindergarten-12 school.
Mom Tracie says the move to Sequim a bit more than a year ago was a step up in terms of things her children could do. “The kids got into everything,” she recalls.
Tracie was a strong runner herself, competing for the University of Mary Marauders in Bismarck, ND, clocking a 64-second 400 as an eighth-grader and getting down to 58 seconds in the event.
But Tracie gestures toward Riley and admits, “She’s way faster.”
“I knew she would be speedy.”
That speed helps her on the basketball court, where she’ll spend much of the next several months prior to her final middle school track season. “I don’t know which one I like more,” she says.
She plays hoops on a select team as well, with many of her Port Angeles friends who run on the North Olympic Track Club.
Fortunately for Riley, she won’t have to choose between the sports.
Gentry says that’s a good thing. In an era when some top young athletes pick one sport and specialize, the SMS teacher says it’ll be good for Pyeatt to mix it up a bit … although running will likely be where she stands out at a prep level.
“It depends on the goals and passions (of the athlete, but) doing all of them is important at this age,” Gentry said.
“She’s not the tallest, the biggest the strongest for basketball. She’s got speed.”
That much was obvious in the Timberwolves’ last practice of the season. Gentry sent Pyeatt and Mingoy, the top SMS boy runner — and the top 1.5-miler in Washington state, according to athletic.net — out for a mile at 90 percent pace. Mingoy ran a 5:27 mile with Pyeatt about eight seconds back. After a brief rest (a couple of minutes), they ran again. Mingoy ran a 5:31, four seconds slower, while Pyeatt ran a 5:33 picking up two seconds than her time set a few minutes ago.
Still a ‘kid’
While she’s business on the course, Gentry notes, she’s often seen with her teammates goofing off and having fun at meets.
“Besides that, she’s a great kid academically and she’s a good teammate,” he says.
Tracie says Riley, a middle child, has hit the books as hard as she has the trails, earning a 4.00 grade-point-average.
About the only thing that seems to shake the eighth-grader is that bit of tension in track when it’s time to race. In cross country the nerves go away as she sheds the miles. Waiting for the starting gun can bring out some jitters.
That didn’t seem to slow her down as she competed with her club track team at the Region 13 Junior Olympics Championships in July in Spokane.
“It was scary, intimidating,” Pyeatt says, and she still managed to cross the tape in the 400 in a speedy 1:00.18, a personal best … and 30th best in the nation among middle school girls in 2017.
The mark qualified her for nationals but, alas, there was a club basketball tournament to play, and some teammates depending on her.