Hawaii calls and the Moses Lake cross country team is ready to hang loose

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Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake's Camille Carpenter (147) , pictured at the Moses Lake Invitational from a year ago, is a junior on this year's cross country team.

OAHU, Hawaii — They go in search of sea turtles and a spiritual experience of sorts, taking on the elevation changes, the backwoods, the humidity, sea level and whatever else the rugged, but beautiful terrain of Oahu at the Kualoa Ranch will throw at them.

The ‘Iolani Invitational is the largest meet of its kind in Hawaii. It’s a dream race and the Moses Lake cross country team is going to play a little tourist and race against some of the most prominent programs in the Western United States and Hawaiian Islands Sept. 15 at the 20th annual ‘Iolani Cross Country Invitational.

Widely renowned as the fastest and most prestigious meet in the islands, it’s an event that brings some of the best from the mainland. The past two years the Dana Hills, Calif., boys stole the show, especially in 2015 when they placed six runners in the top 10.

“I don’t think the humidity will be too much to handle. But I am looking forward to racing at sea level,” Chiefs No. 1 Joshua Cooper said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge and to have a little fun.”

The course, which is partially wet and rugged, spans the backwoods at the Kualoa Ranch, according to the website. It starts and ends on relatively flat grass and gravel. But it does have its share of challenges with drastic elevation changes cutting through a wooded area and is definitely a course where the middle of the pack will lose sight of the leaders, so race strategy is demanding. To see the course and last year’s action, visit www.iolanixc.com/ixci.

Chiefs junior Camille Carpenter finished 73rd in her first 4A state race a year ago. She’s looking forward to a race that compares to the Nike Cross Championships.

“I ran at Nike last year, so I’ve experienced some big races. I’m excited to see new competition. We’ll run on the beach here and there for practice, but I have no idea what the course is really like,” said Carpenter, who is in just her second season of cross country.

“I run track, but I’m still learning how to race in cross country. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Junior Carlie Gregg is the most experienced runner on a team coach Larry Dagnon believes will “shock the world,” in 2018. Gregg, a two-time 4A state qualifier, also ran at Nike last year. Cross country is as much mental as it is physically being up for the challenge she said.

“The thing about big races is that you have to stand your ground and run your race,” Gregg said. “The big thing, I would say, is not to over-think your race, just run. You have to push yourself. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days. But at the end of the day, it’s just you out there so you have to know how you race and keep pushing.”

The meet will feature Moses Lake and Glacier Peak from Snohomish, along with Viroqua, Wis., and a number of Hawaiian programs. But the highlight, at least in Dagnon’s eyes, is the nine-time California State Champions from McFarland, Calif., who will also be in the field. “McFarland USA” is the 2015 Disney Production starring Kevin Costner portraying coach Jim White, who took a bunch of Hispanic kids from immigrant parents and created a running dynasty, which includes nine state championships (five consecutive), along with a streak of attending the state championship meet 24 years in a row.

“This is going to be a dream race. When we started looking around for places to race, when we saw (McFarland) was going to be there. We said, ‘let’s go race against them,’ ” Dagnon said.

The dream didn’t come without sacrifice, the Moses Lake cross country program raised an estimated $28,000 over the summer to help fund the adventure.

The Chiefs will open the season on Saturday by hosting the Moses Lake Invite at Blue Heron Park. The middle school divisions begin at 10 a.m. and racing goes off every half hour. The varsity girls are scheduled to begin at 11:45 and the boys are scheduled to run at 12:15 p.m.

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