So few races, so many potential winners.
Cross country was cancelled across the state in the 2020-21 academic year with the exception of one entity: the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. The private-school organization postponed all fall sports, and one of the few to be revived in the winter was cross country.
With strict COVID-19 protocols, runners have remained on courses with only their teammates in staggered schedule formats. When the ILH championships run at Mid-Pacific Institute on Saturday, there will be favorites, but every bit of visual competitiveness will be different from title races of the past.
Kamehameha’s William Ho has been the top boys runner in this abbreviated, strange and fascinating cross country season. He posted a time of 10 minutes, 38 seconds on Feb. 20 in a meet at Kamehameha.
“He is a guy that’s hard-working, very smart about running, training and anything in general,” Kamehameha assistant coach Paul Oshiro said. “He would make a great coach someday.”
Ho could get a push from MPI junior Parker Wagnild, who led a meet over the weekend at the Kamehameha campus with a time of 10:44.39, edging out ‘Iolani freshman Devin Pang (10:44.53).
‘Iolani senior Joshua Lerner was a close third in the same race at 10:45.11. Kamehameha ran in the event, but Ho was held out and did a pace workout later.
“It’s a toss-up, and I have to add Connor Malinger of Hawaii Baptist,” MPI Coach Rick Hendrix said.
Punahou’s Nick Pugliese, who finished 17th at states in 2019 as a freshman, has been out with a strained quadriceps injury.
“Nick is possible for Saturday,” longtime Buffanblu Coach Duncan Macdonald said. “He’s trained intermittently. He could run, but I’m not counting on it.
On top of that, Punahou has run in only one meet. Rain has been constant this week with flash floods and flash flood warnings across the state.
“We’ve had bad luck with rain on campus,” Macdonald said. “Mid-Pacific should handle the rain OK. When Matt Stevens (of Hawaii Baptist) was a senior, it was flooded there.”
The stretch run at MPI, site of the ILH championships, includes a significant hill run. There are hills aplenty at Kamehameha, but their course is primarily level. ‘Iolani trains on completely flat terrain.
The girls individual title is up for grabs between a few of the ILH’s young phenoms. Freshman Madison Murata of Kamehameha posted a time of 12 minutes, 38 seconds to lead the girls in a three-school meet with ‘Iolani and Mid-Pacific Institute last weekend. Among her top challengers was the runner-up from that site, ‘Iolani freshman Jolie Nguyen (12:56), a tennis player who is emerging as an elite harrier.
“Madison reminds me of Jordan Jones, who ran for Pac-Five from St. Andrew’s Priory. She’s running similar times as Jordan her freshman year and Jordan was an outstanding distance runner, winning the 2017 ILH championships her senior, and third in states,” Hendrix said. “Madison has the edge with a better time at the last meet at Kamehameha. But with the current COVID conditions, I wouldn’t rule out other talented ILH runners.”
Oshiro, the Kamehameha assistant, draws another comparison.
“She reminds me of Amanda Beaman of ‘Iolani. She’s tiny and powerful and fast-looking when she runs,” he said.
Sophomore Ashley Kodama of Hawaii Baptist Academy placed third at states in the fall of 2019.
“Can’t count her out,” Hendrix said. “Punahou girls such as Lauren Saunders, who has only gotten to run one race due to weather and she placed seventh at states.”
‘Iolani assistant coach Jonathan Lyau points to Saunders, Izzy Ford and Sasha Iizuka-Sheeley of Punahou as title contenders. Nguyen, though is in position to pull off a big feat.
“Jolie will have to go out quicker and keep her pace more aggressive in the middle,” Lyau said. “Keep holding her pace instead of relaxing if she finds herself breaking away. She’ll have to run with the thought that someone is right behind her.”
The Raiders had five runners at sub-14 minutes in the Kamehameha meet. That makes them a serious contender in the ILH along with Punahou for the ILH girls team title.
Lyau notes the absence of 2019 ILH champion Malia Dickens of Punahou.
“She has not run any meets, so you never know,” he said.
Macdonald, however, confirmed that Dickens is not running. She has been recovering from an injury.
The fastest girls time at an ILH meet this season was turned in by Logan Pang of ‘Iolani at 12 minutes flat. She is not eligible to race for the ILH title because she is in seventh grade.
(Update: Adds Duncan Macdonald, 2:57 p.m.)