The Hermiston Bulldogs cross country team travels to the 45th annual Richland Invitational today to take on the best the Northwest has to offer and prep for a deep postseason run.
The invitational is the longest-standing race in Washington and is one of the biggest of the season for a Bulldog squad fast approaching the district tournament. This meet will feature both the boys and girls teams, as well as the middle school teams.
Hermiston head coach Jacob Puzey said he enjoys the race and how his team usually performs.
Being the longest-tenured race in Washington, the Richland Invitational has a lot of tradition, he said. Historically, we have competed very well there. The meet comes at the perfect time during our season.
Puzeys philosophy for his program is for his runners to peak at the right time: the district meet. He said he helps them accomplish that by avoiding some of the high pressure meets earlier in the year so they can focus on getting better.
Trying to maintain the fitness level it takes to win all season long is too much to ask, he said. We want our team peaking at the end of the season.
Puzey said he likes to schedule a couple of tough meets right before the district meet to alleviate some of the stress of a state-qualifying race.
Unfortunately there is no pre-qualifying for the state meet, Puzey said. You have to be on your game for the district meet, or you dont go to state. By running in these big meets beforehand our runners know they are up to the challenge when districts come.
Puzey said this will be the last chance during the regular season for his runners to compete against some great competition. He said wants to see progress from his team today.
Weve got some pretty high expectations for our team, he said. Weve seen a lot of growth from our younger runners, and we hope that will continue.
Puzey said his younger runners gained some valuable experience during the last meet because his seniors were unable to run because they were taking the SATs.
The young kids really rose to the challenge in our last meet, he said. Many of them have improved their times by minutes year over year. They are starting to gain a lot of confidence at the right time.
Puzey said he is excited about his team this season but thinks the Bulldogs will remain competitive for years to come because of the young talent.
Obviously Im focused on how we will compete near the end of this year, but as a coach its nice to see a program building on a ton of great, young talent on both the boys and the girls side, he said.
Puzey said his two senior leaders on the boys team, Alejandro Cisneros and Jose Macias, are two of the best runners to ever compete for Hermiston.
Theyre just unbelievable, he said. They can and will go down as possibly the best weve ever had in the program.
Puzey said people should not ignore the girls squad, however, and praised the season of senior Katie Markwick has been having.
She is really setting the tone on the ladies side, Puzey said. Im excited to see how she will fare in the post season meets.
Cross country team scores are predicated on all members of the team running well, Puzey said. Times are taken from five runners from each team, and those scores are then added together. The teams with the best runners from top to bottom tend to win. Puzey said depth is an important aspect of placing well at any big meet.
You dont win with just your best runner, he said. Winning takes a collective team effort. Depth is key to our success.