Years of practice produce top marks

Area athletes spend years of sweating through practices to reach state competitions.

But there is a lot of unseen effort by athletes, coaches and parents to get them onto the awards podium.

Many of those doing well last week were seniors pushing to establish their best marks before graduating. Others are younger athletes, establishing an early mark to beat for next year.

Here are a few:

Sierra Speiker, a senior at Oroville, epitomizes hard work.

She lowered a 25-year-old state 2B track meet record in the 3,200-meter run by more than 5 seconds May 30 in Cheney.

She finished in 10 minutes, 50.96 seconds, breaking the 1989 record set by Shelly Smathers of Morton of 10:56.3.

Speiker has a best this year of 10.49.00, a school record, set April 19 at Quincy.

Speiker, who is heading to University of Idaho this fall on a running scholarship, achieved her record by running every day for many years.

“I’ve been running since the seventh-grade,” said Speiker, who comes from a running family. “My Dad dropped me off at cross country my eighth-grade year. He made me go, I did not want to. Now, I love cross country. I love running.”

She runs about 65 miles a week during the winter and 70 miles a week in the summer.

“I just started increasing my mileage this past summer,” the three-time state 2B cross country champion and defending 3,200 state champ said. She was named 2B girls Athlete of the Week by Washington Interscholastic Activities Association for week 36 after winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, plus running a leg on the winning 4x400 relay at the District 5/6 meet a week before state.

Katarina Wilson of Pateros was named girls class 1B Athlete of the Week the same week for pitching (10 strikeouts) and hitting (.800 batting average, home run) against Sunnyside Christian in the District 5/6 softball championship.

Speiker won the 1,600 (5:11.25), a mere two seconds off the state record and was second in the 800 (2:27.07), a personal best.

Speiker and Kaitlyn Grunst, who finished third in the high jump (5-0) “are two of the best kids I’ve coached in 30 years,” Oroville coach Harold Jensen said. “It’s no joke the way they are. They are straight-A students.”

Speiker, the school’s valedictorian, will be studying physical therapy in college.

Jensen’s coached some outstanding athletes over the years, including Katie Arrigoni, who will be competing in the steeplechase at the NCAA Division I track and field championships this weekend in Eugene, Ore.

Arrigoni, who earned a berth to nationals from regionals last weekend in Arkansas, is competing for Eastern Washington University from Cheney. She earlier won the Big Sky steeplechase title and was second in the 5,000.

The meet will be televised this week starting Wednesday on various ESPN channels.

At the other extreme from being a senior with a last chance to prove yourself are Okanogan freshmen Megan Patrick and Shelby Walker, who took a third-place finish in their first state 1B/2B/1A tournament.

“We always wanted to play doubles together,” Walker said.

They learned they could be an effective team after winning the girls doubles crown at a February tournament in Yakima.

One of the teams they beat, La Salle, had finished fifth at state the previous year.

The girls started the season playing singles before teaming up for doubles about halfway through the spring. Along the way they knocked off older players.

At least one player at state found the duo a nightmare — she being with that La Salle team.

“We were already in her head because of Yakima,” Walker said. “She threw a fit” during the match. Nobody liked being beat by freshmen.”

Being told they would not succeed motivated the girls more.

Walker started playing tennis when she was 4 years old, introduced to the sport in a Scooby Doo camp for children at North Cascades Athletes Club in Omak.

Patrick said she took up tennis in fourth-grade at the urging of Walker.

“She introduced me to tennis, her and her mom,” Patrick said.

They did not suddenly get good, either. They played every day last summer and whenever they could between soccer and basketball the past two seasons. That includes Monday doubles night.

One of their dreams since they were 6 and saw the Okanogan girls basketball team get a school send-off to state was getting their own send-off to state tennis.

“We’ve been dreaming about it,” Patrick said.

Both agreed teamwork, communication and a positive attitude were important to success.

“Not giving up, that’s pretty big, too,” Patrick said. “Ignoring what people are saying about us, taking it out by whacking the ball.”

Pateros senior Jessi Dowers worked on her discus despite the school not having a pit or throwing area. She finished second in state 1B with a toss of 98 feet, 11 inches. Last year at state, she finished sixth with a 95-8 mark.

“That’s my best finish, yet, at state,” said Dowers, who has competed in track four years.

She produced her best discus mark ever at the District 5/6 tournament a week before state with a toss of 104-5.

Dowers, who stays in shape in the off-season playing basketball and volleyball, said she had to practice just about every day this spring.

Last summer, she attended a thrower’s camp.

Pateros practices at Bridgeport three days a week during the season — Bridgeport has a discus pit. On other days, Dowers heads to a town park, where she moves picnic tables off a concrete slab so she can practice her throws.

She will be studying architecture at Montana State University in Bozeman in the fall, and is thinking of participating in intramural sports.

Kip Craig, a senior at Bridgeport, knows about technique, too.

He finished second in the 110 hurdles (15.33), second in the 300 hurdles (40.57) and fifth in the 200 (23.33).

He set personal bests and school records this year in the 200 (22.94), 400 (52.82), 110 hurdles (15.33) and 300 hurdles (40.36). He’s also run 11.74 in the 100.

“I first started the hurdles in the seventh-grade,” Craig said. “At the level I got my senior year, from freshman year to senior year, I was doing hurdle work out there every day, getting the technique down.”

He’s planning to be an athletic trainer while attending Eastern Washington University, where he will walk-on for the track team.

But first he will compete in the Duel Track Classic today in Wilsonville, Ore. The meet pits the top high school athletes from Oregon and Washington.

Al Camp is the sports editor at

The Chronicle. Email him at


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