Tacoma, WA - September 29, 2008


Hokey? Maybe, but Tides aren’t pokey
DOUG PACEY; Tacoma News Tribune
Published: September 24th, 2008 12:30 AM | Updated: September 24th, 2008 10:21 AM
When runners join the Gig Harbor girls cross country team, they quickly learn that much
“We set the expectations high, and the girls set them even higher for themselves,” said Tides coach Patty Ley, who is entering her 19th season with the program. “They keep passing it along. By the second week of practice, even with the newer kids, there’s this attitude that is, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to ask myself to work harder. This is the level I want to be at.’”

Winners of five state championships, including the past three Class 4A crowns, Gig Harbor has been at a higher level.

“The tradition definitely comes across,” junior Cara Saxon said. “You can tell when you enter the team. You just realize from being around the other girls that we’re here for a purpose.”

The purpose this season is to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive 4A state championship. Despite returning a varsity roster with two experienced runners, the Tides have zoomed to the No. 1 ranking in the state coaches association poll.

Senior Alyssa Andrews won the South Whidbey Invitational on Saturday, setting a course record when she completed the 3.1-mile race in 18 minutes, 5 seconds. Gig Harbor finished second behind Jesuit High School of Portland, and the Tides heard a familiar mantra at the meet.

“We heard people saying, ‘Go get the blue!’ ” said Saxon, referring to Gig Harbor’s jerseys. “It’s kind of cool to have people want to catch you.”

Ley said the girls trained well during the summer and when she saw them on the first day of turnout, she was pleased.

“They look good,” she said. “They are in (the hunt for a state title). At this point, they’ve raced almost better than they’ve trained. It’s exciting.”

Gig Harbor has been a factor at most state meets since the school opened in 1979. The Tides won their first state title in 1980, when Ley was a freshman, and again in 1992. They added two second-place trophies in the 1990s and another runner-up finish in 2004 – Gig Harbor tied Bellarmine Prep for first place, but was awarded second based on a tiebreaker – before embarking on their current stretch of three state titles.

Through all those seasons, there has been one constant – the Hokey Pokey.

Ley said the song-and-dance has been performed at Gig Harbor cross country meets at least once a season for the past 29 meets. The Tides used to save it for the biggest meets of the year – league, district and state – but it’s become more common in recent years.

“At the end we do our right arm, left leg and then we put our whole self in,” Saxon said. “We give it our all.”

At the state meet last season, the Tides drew the No. 1 position, which placed them next to the bright orange plastic barrier separating the runners from spectators.

Moments before the start of the race, Gig Harbor’s alternate runners and a few alumni gathered near the varsity. With the fence dividing them, the girls formed a circle and, like they’ve been doing since 1979, did the Hokey Pokey.

Less than 30 minutes later, the Tides claimed their third consecutive state championship, the first 4A girls team to accomplish the feat in 20 years.

“Someone asked me why I let them do that silly thing before the race,” Ley said. “I said, ‘Because the last thing they do is put their whole selves in.’ ”