PASCO — Just call him “champ.”

Daniel Quintana of Ilwaco successfully defended his WIAA state cross country title Saturday.

But the manner of the race wasn’t what anyone expected.

When he won the 2B title in 2019, his strategy was to stay with the front pack, positioning himself for a kick down the hill to the finish.

State of the race

But after the 112 boys packed along this year’s start line settled into a somewhat slower rhythm, it was just Quintana and sophomore Will Halpin of Liberty Bell out in front.

“I like to stick with a group of kids,” Quintana said. “I had to make a new strategy.”

He was ahead of Halpin as they took an early turn on the winding course. Completing a second loop, Halpin was just ahead with Quintana on his shoulder.

Runners behind them included junior Asher Ingram of NW Christian Lacey who had defeated him at the League meet and was just five seconds behind him at District.

“If I slow down, they are going to catch me,” said Quintana, recalling his thoughts. “They made me get out of my comfort zone.”

The Sun Willows Golf Course has a hill to climb then a steep slope down to the finish line archway, thronged by fans and photographers.

“I came up the hill and he wasn’t making any moves,” said Qunitana. “I looked back at him. He wasn’t going to catch me.”

As he crossed the finish line at a sprint — four seconds ahead — a smiling Quintana gave a wide-armed double fist pump. The same trademark image (from his 2019 win) appeared on the cover of the WIAA program for this year’s event with photos of athletes from four other schools.

Halpin was second and Ingram third. Runners poured into the chutes as Halpin made his way through the crowd to shake Quintana’s hand. His second-place points helped secure the team trophy for his Winthrop school.

Crowd of fans

Well-wishers included other runners and coaches, patting Quintana’s shoulder and giving fist bumps. Several runners asked to have their photo taken with him. His accomplishment was big news — he had to work his way through at least three media interviews before the track announcer paged him to hurry over to the podium because it was time to receive his medal.

“I am ‘back to back.’ That’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was a really tough race with all that pressure — people asking about whether I was going to be getting first again.”

Quintana’s success is almost a “three-peat.” He will appear in WIAA record books as the winner in 2019 and 2021. Covid shutdowns delayed the 2020 season to a curtailed schedule, concluding with a district meet in spring 2021.

There was no in-person state meet. Instead the top runners raced on their home tracks and their coaches submitted times; Quintana’s was the fastest.

Proud coach

Coach Sarah Taylor was beaming afterward.

“It wasn’t as fast as two years ago,” she said, noting that there was no pack of serious contenders. “It was clear in the first mile it was just the second-place kid and him.

“It was a very good strategic race. He knew what he had to do. Once I saw them running right next to each other, I was not really worried because his kick is unstoppable.”

Quintana started running in seventh grade. He was eager to praise Taylor for her support over the years. “There were days when I really didn’t want to run and she was there for me,” he said. “She’s the best coach. She’s always there keeping me on the right path, with my grades, and making sure I am healthy.”

Ilwaco’s other competitor, Logan Simonson, placed 81st with a time of 19:14.60. He had a strong senior season and had been praised by his coach after his seventh-place success at District for his improvement.

He passed two runners in the last mile and had a strong downhill finish. “This is one of the best moments of my life for cross country,” he said.

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