PORTLAND, Ore. — Going into Saturday’s Nike Cross Nationals, the Gig Harbor Tides knew they had a shot at something special.
The Tides, ranked No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, won the Class 4A state championship last month and held off the Christian Brothers Academy from New Jersey to claim the national championship.
Gig Harbor senior Wolfgang Beck finished sixth overall, and the Tides totaled 111 points. Christian Brothers Academy scored 139.
“It’s the best feeling of my life,” Beck said. “It’s amazing. So much work has gone into this.”
Although the race is one of the first all year that provided the Tides with some competition, Beck said their approach remained the same.
Gig Harbor’s Logan Carroll finished 12th, while Tristan Peloquin placed 16th, Mahmoud Moussa 51st, Michael Hammer 103rd, John Shields 148th and Jordan Oldenburg 182nd.
Carroll said he wasn’t sure of the outcome when he crossed the finish line. The Tides knew they were in the top two, but CBA also raced well.
As the announcers called out the race results in descending order, the Tides huddled up together, nervously hoping they wouldn’t hear their name called as the second-place team.
“Honestly, we were just praying and hoping that we’d won,” Carroll said.
When the announcer named the New Jersey club ahead of Gig Harbor, the Tides’ reaction was predictable.
“We went nuts,” Carroll said.
Gig Harbor High School head coach Mark Wieczorek attended the event but wasn’t able to coach the team, per Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules.
“I love them all so much,” Wieczorek said. “It’s so fun to be a part of their lives. I’m so lucky that they embraced me and brought me in and let me be a part of their group. They’re such a fun group of guys.”
Gig Harbor, a focused team with a relentless work ethic, had its eye on the prize from the beginning of the season.
“I think we knew all along (that we had a chance to win nationals),” Wieczorek said.
Wieczorek said the team’s success largely stems from the bond they share. They work together well and support each other.
When Carroll edged out Beck for the individual state championship in Pasco, Beck didn’t get upset. Instead, he gave Carroll a hug and congratulated him.
“They work together so well,” Wieczorek said. “They don’t get competitive with each other. They love each other. They’re friends and teammates. They support each other and lift each other up. That’s the coolest thing to see as a coach.”
The race wasn’t without drama, however.
Hammer, a junior who has been the steady No. 5 for the Tides all season, got caught up in a pileup that occurred early in the race.
“Some guys fell in front of me,” Hammer said. “There was a pack of four, and I fell on top of them and landed on my torso a bit.”
Hammer said the team had talked about what to do in that situation the day before the race. If anyone fell, the key was not to panic and try to sprint to catch up.
“If anyone falls, you get up, try to be calm and try to keep the pace you were, and relax,” Hammer said.
The fall gave Hammer some extra motivation.
“As soon as I fell, I thought, ‘I can’t be the reason we lose,’ ” Hammer said. “It did give me a little push mentally. I knew our other four guys were going to leave it all out there for me, so I’m going to leave it all out there for them.”
For the team, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I can’t say that I’ll ever have a moment again in my running career that’ll be that exciting, to win a national title with these guys,” Carroll said. “That’s a great way to end it. I couldn’t ask for a better end to my high school career.”Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.