Ask Olympia High School cross country coach Jesse Stevick a question about running and he’ll quickly provided you with the correct answer.
There’s not much the guy doesn’t know about the world of running, especially of the long-distance variety. After all, who better to ask about the sport than the individual who won the Capital City Marathon a record 10 times between 2006 and 2016?
Stevick is an expert. No question about it. But even this one had him stumped.
“I really know why,” replied Stevick when asked what the reason was for the Bears’ record turnout this year for the boys squad.
Olympia has 52 runners out this season for boys cross country – a total that is at least 10 more than any previous season, according to Stevick.
“We actually have a lot of young runners this year,” Stevick said. “A lot of freshmen and sophomores who are out for the first time. That’s the fun thing about coaching, building those relationships over time. Having runners I can coach for three or four years is exciting to me because cross country is a sport where you have no idea how you’re going to do until you actually start training.”
While the bulk of the roster is new to the sport, the Bears do return two of their top runners from last year in senior Connor Griffith and sophomore Ethan Coleman. Both were new to the Olympia program last season with Griffith transferring in from Kansas and Coleman being a fresh-faced freshman.
Griffith, who moved to Olympia mid-way through his sophomore year, finished 12th at the Class 4A state meet as a junior, stopping the clock in 15 minutes, 43.1 seconds – a time that he’s already improved upon this year.
“I’ve never actually had that happen before where somebody moved in and was on varsity,” Stevick said. “We’ve had a lot of military kids move out who were really good. I think we could have had a state championship team or two if some of those kids had stayed. So, it’s nice to finally have one move in.”
Griffith has been exceptional during the early portion of his senior campaign. His time of 15:28.6 at the Fort Steilacoom Invite is the sixth fastest time in the state among 4A runners. However, Griffith isn’t the only Bear appearing on the top 10. He is joined by teammate Coleman, whose Fort Steilacoom Invite time of 15:32.6 is the state’s ninth best time this season.
Adding to the impressiveness of it all is the fact that no other school placed two runners in the top 10 and Coleman was the only sophomore appearing in the top 14.
“We have this great team dynamic,” said Coleman, who finished eighth in the 3200 at last year’s state track and field championships. “Connor and I push each other really hard. We want to go 1-2 in all the races we compete in and because of that we’re both better runners.”
Stevick got his first look at Griffith during track season two years ago and immediately knew he had something special during the early part of last cross country season.
“We were doing this two-mile event at night where they had hay bales on the track and runners had to jump over them,” Stevick said. “There were about 60 guys running and Connor was passing everyone pretty easily. I was pretty confident he was going to be good.”
Griffith opened his 2019 season by winning the senior boys division at the 26th annual Capital Invite, a race he also triumphed in last year. He’s also registered first-place finishes in a pair of 4A South Puget Sound League meets.
“Connor ran for a very competitive team (in Kansas),” Stevick said. “And he brought with him this work ethic and the kids see that and it’s been inspiring for the other runners to see. Washington is one of the most competitive states. Had he stayed in Kansas, he would be winning almost everything there.”
After fighting through an injury-riddled track season, which he labeled “less than ideal,” Griffith is now fully healthy and ready to challenge for a state title.
“This team really made it an easy transition for me (moving in from Kansas),” Griffith said. “The team aspect is what I love about this sport. Going out there and running with this team means a lot to me and Jesse is amazing and just a great coach to learn under.”
Running almost stride for stride with Griffith is Coleman, whose time at the Fort Steilacoom Invite was more than a minute faster than the time he posted at the state meet in 2018.
“Last year there was this element of surprise with every race,” Coleman said. “I just didn’t know what to expect as a freshman. This year it’s much more comfortable. I think just about every single race someone has come up to me and told me they had seen my times. That gives you confidence.”
Olympia will compete in a series of invites, including the Bill Kehoe South Sound Invite at Saint Martin’s University on October 12, over the next few weeks before heading to the 4A SPSL Championships on October 24. Griffith finished second at the meet last year before going on to win the 4A West Central District title.