See Jane run.
Run Jane, run!
Those were the words that adorned the shirts of Jane Roloff supporters, Hoquiam’s senior distance-running dynamo ahead of the 1A State Championship girls cross-country race on Saturday in Pasco.
And did Jane have a run to remember that day.
Just under 18-and-a-half minutes after the girls state-title race started, Roloff approached the finish line with the rest of the field behind her, on the verge of winning the first girls cross-country state title in Hoquiam High School history.
How Roloff got to that moment, in the final cross-country race of her decorated prep career, has as much to do with mind as it does matter.
A little over one week prior to the state final, Roloff entered the 1A District 4 Championship race at the Lewis River Golf Course as the clear favorite. But a sub-par performance, by her standards, left Roloff in an unfamiliar position, placing second to Montesano freshman Haley Schweppe and missing her last shot at one of the big trophies – a district title.
“I was frustrated because I didn’t feel my best and it wasn’t really like me at all,” Roloff said of the loss. “I’m still proud of Haley, she ran great. I just wasn’t feeling great and that’s why I was frustrated because I knew I had a lot left in me and I just couldn’t get to it that day.”
Further compounding matters was the second-place finish was on a course with rolling hills similar to the track at the state final.
“The hills on (the Lewis River) course got to me and so I was kind of stressing out because I hoped that hills were still my strength when I got to state,” said Roloff, who added Hoquiam head coach Dave Beeler had trimmed back her running in the week of practice leading up to the state finale. “We cut down on the mileage a lot this week and that helped me a lot. In the past, that usually hasn’t worked for me. It usually makes me kind of worried that because I’m not running as much I’m not going to do as well.”
So in a sport where fractions of a second can mean all the difference, Roloff entered the state meet with a personal-best time of 18:43 from the district final, good enough for the fourth-best time in the 1A class but far off the pace of Schweppe’s 18:29 and front-runner Aaliyah Cassidy Yearian of Port Townsend.
While a look at the numbers suggested Roloff would be in the running for a top-three spot, one figured she’d have to run at her very best to win the state title.
That is exactly what she did.
One of those who had the confidence that Roloff was in good position to win the state championship was her head coach, who took the job at Hoquiam two seasons ago and has learned exactly what makes Roloff tick.
“That’s the reason I came to Hoquiam. I knew that Jane had the potential to be a really good runner,” Beeler said. “Jane is so humble. She’s the most humble athlete I’ve ever coached. I told her, ‘You could be one of the best in the state.’ Jane doesn’t like to hear that she wants to win a state title. Some kids thrive on that, but Jane doesn’t like the pressure. My last thing today was, ‘Go have fun and enjoy the course.’ And that’s exactly what she did.”
Roloff admits that she doesn’t run for the competition or the medals or to win championships. All that is nice but her motivation is simply that she loves to run.
“I’ve had some races where Beeler tells me he has a time he wants me to hit. At the time he didn’t know I’d get all worked up like that. It got me really overwhelmed and I didn’t do super great and he was stumped because I was having great workouts and was in great shape,” Roloff said. “At the next race, he was like, ‘Just go out there and have fun,’ and I had like a one-minute PR. It was a complete game-changer. He knows I’m going to try my best regardless, so it’s all about having fun for me.”
Beeler said before the state final he knew Roloff was in the right frame of mind.
“Last week she looked flat, heavy and sluggish and still ran a PR. This week in practice, she looked better than she has all season long and I knew it was going to be something special today,” Beeler said. “Jane was so loose this weekend. She had fun and was laughing and dancing in the tent before the race.”
“I kept telling Coach Beeler, ‘I keep forgetting what we are doing here,’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s good. That means you’re not overthinking it,’ which is something I’ve stuggled with in the past,” Roloff said. “I just get really worked up, but once I realize I’m in control of my results, it helps me relax and be able to have fun because that’s what it’s really all about.”
So ahead of the biggest and final race of her prep cross-country career, Roloff listened to Beeler as he laid out the strategy for the race.
The plan was to play it conservative early and stay close to the lead pack. If she felt good and was close at the two-mile mark of the 5K race, turn on the jets and see if the rest of the field can keep up with her.
“During districts, Haley took out the first mile really fast and I went with her. It was kind of an off day for me. I knew she was going to do that at state and I was just trying to last a little bit and not go with her and Aaliyah because that has not worked out for me in the past,” Roloff said. “It was a little stressful the first mile because I didn’t know if I was going to lose them or not.”
But Roloff didn’t lose them. She stayed with the rabbits and found herself in the lead pack anywhere from third to fifth place through the first mile.
”I’ve learned I feel better as it goes on. The first mile is usually a little rough for me,” Roloff said. “I just get more excited and have more adrenaline in the last two miles.”
Approximately two miles into the race, Roloff found herself neck-and-neck with Yearian, and remembering her coach’s pre-race advice, decided to make her move.
“I put the lead on Aaliyah and she kind of got it back. I went back for it and it was like, ‘Now I have to keep it for this last mile.’ I kind of put a little bit of pressure on myself to keep the lead,” Roloff sad. “I think this kind of ended up working for me because in the past, I haven’t been the one to pass somebody in the last 200 meters, so I know that if I want it, I have to decide early on and that’s what I did.”
It turned out to be the perfect strategy as Roloff began to extend her lead on Yearing in the last mile until she approached the final hill about 200 meters from the finish line.
“As I was going up the last hill, I think there was a coach or someone that said, ‘After this last hill, it’s all downhill.’ So I just hammered it,” Roloff said. “I hoped that nobody else was right on me and I was right. I took that last hill as hard as I possibly could and it was all downhill, so that was great.”
Roloff crested the hill and had nothing between her and a state championship except green grass with Yearian and her teammate Fiona Fraser approximately 10 seconds behind.
With a throng of spectators cheering her on from the infield fence, Roloff was just inside 100 meters when the PA announcer said, “Jane Roloff of Hoquiam with the lead in the 1A girls race.”
Roloff crossed the finish line with a time of 18:28.00 to win the state championship, Hoquiam’s first girls cross country state title in the school’s long history.
2023 WIAA/@GesaCU State XC 1A Girls Champion:
— WIAA (@wiaawa) November 4, 2023
“I was shocked initially because there is so much adrenaline going into it you don’t realize what you are doing until you are done,” Roloff said. “I was really relieved that I had finished and I felt good. It didn’t really hit me until there was some interviewers at the end. I was emotional initianlly after crossing the finish line. But there was an interviewer at the end who said, ‘You are the first Hoquiam girl to win a state title,’ and I just started crying.”
It wouldn’t be the last tears Roloff, or her coach, or her family and friends that witnessed what she had just accomplished would shed that day.
“I gained my composure (after the post-race interview) and I was like, ‘OK, I’m done.’ And I saw Beeler and I started crying,” said Roloff, who was congratulated by her coach, friends and father Casey and mother Laura, each of whom were wearing their “See Jane run” T-shirts. “They were all emotional. It was pretty great. My whole family was so excited.”
Turns out the celebrating wasn’t done yet as later that evening, Roloff and a friend drove into the Hoquiam High School parking lot and were greeted by an welcoming party of approximately 20 supporters waiting to congratulate her.
”I was dropping my friend off who came with me to state and Tamara Helland and Charlotte Helland had everybody come to the high school and they had signs and were playing music. I was so surprised and it was really amazing that they all showed up at 8-9 o’clock at night and were cheering me on,” Roloff said. “I pulled in (to the parking lot) and they were waving the flag and I was like, ‘What is going on?’ I didn’t expect it all and it’s just awesome how supportive everybody is. I’m really grateful to have such an awesome community and have so many other people supporting me.”
“It was a great feeling to see her finally reach the top of the podium,” Beeler said of his state-champion. “She did everything proper. Everything was spot on and then she ran a spot-on race.”
And she will forever be a state champion because of it.