By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Last Friday night, Ian McQuate had a sore throat and congestion in his chest. The maladies were still there the next morning — right before his appointment at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation cross country meet.
The Waiakea senior wasn’t at his best, but he still slam-dunked the competition in the three-mile, easygoing trek at his home course, continuing his run of dominance.
Against league competition, he’s 3 for 3, looking like he’ll go undefeated until significance is on the line at the BIIF championships, the only race where results really count.
Basically, all the regular-season meets are tuneups. Maybe that’s the thinking of the defending BIIF champion, Honokaa senior Tony Connors, who clocked a time of 18 minutes, 27 seconds to edge McQuate’s 18:35 for the title at Hawaii Prep’s course last year.
At Waiakea’s campus course on that sun-baked Saturday, McQuate’s motor was again too fast for the field. He finished in 17:14. Maybe Connors was playing possum; he was fifth in 18:01 — a significant time difference compared to HPA’s grueling challenge.
The Warrior and Dragon will only have three more tuneups to size each other up. Saturday’s meet hosted by Konawaena has been canceled because no venue could be secured. The BIIF championships will be held Saturday, Oct. 19 at Kamehameha.
In any case, the BIIF spotlight falls on McQuate, who landed in an unfamiliar spot for the first and only time this season Sept. 7 at the Kamehameha Invitational, which featured harriers from Dana Hills (Calif.) High — a powerhouse with over two decades worth of consecutive trips to the conference finals.
Six of those Southern California runners were ahead of McQuate, who took seventh in 17:05. Apparently, Connors sat out the high-caliber race at Kamehameha’s course. There was no record log of his name. Medalist Jake Ogden was first in a blazing 16:14.
For comparison’s sake, the medalist at the BIIF championships in 2011 at Kamehameha clocked a 17:00. That year as sophomores, McQuate was sixth in 17:45 while Connors was eighth in 17:51. (The top-seven finishers earn All-BIIF first-team; results from other meets don’t count.)
It’s probably a safe assumption that the Dana Hills six-pack started running as soon as they hopped out of the crib. The best harriers not only have natural talent, but also a long track record of arduous repetition.
McQuate is a late bloomer to the serious running scene. He grew up playing basketball and didn’t run cross country until his sophomore year, but once he did he fell hard for his new sport.
“I ran sprints in track in elementary school, but was nowhere near the front. I started playing basketball in the second grade, and I was not that serious with track,” he said. “I was not into running, but I joined the Waiakea track team as a freshman and I liked it. I liked going out and showing what I have. I liked training and seeing the efforts from that, going as fast as I can. And I liked pushing myself.”
Effort and reward
As a sophomore, McQuate was sixth at the BIIF cross country championships and was in the neighborhood of the top 50 at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state meet. After last year’s BIIF runner-up finish, he improved to 31st at states.
It was the same thing when he turned to track. Each year, McQuate shaved off time in his two favorite events, the 1,500 and 3,000 meters, and jumped in the standings at the BIIF championships.
As a freshman he was sixth in the 1,500 and eighth in the 3,000. As a sophomore, McQuate earned bronze in the 1,500 and silver in the 3,000; he was fourth in the 3,000 at states.
He’ll enter his senior year in track as the defending BIIF champ in both events. McQuate also took bronze in the 800; he was seventh in the 1,500 and fifth in the 3,000 at states last season.
How did McQuate get faster? Not by being a couch potato, that’s for sure. He spent his past summer in his familiar routine of working hard.
Under Waiakea track coach Mary Jane Tominaga’s club team, Sunrise Athletics, McQuate competed at the Foot Locker West Regional cross country championships in California. He also ran in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics on Oahu.
During his working summer, McQuate, who has a 3.96 grade-point average, made good use of his time in California. He visited colleges and compiled a top-three list: Adams (Colo.) State, Western Oregon and West Texas A&M.
When he returned home from his summer track event on Oahu, McQuate acknowledges he wasn’t in the best of shape for cross country, a different run than the flat-surface 3,000-meter distance.
And just like football, powerful harriers capitalize on the smallest mistakes, execute in a technical manner and cross the finish line first. Six runners from Dana Hills did that at the Kamehameha Invitational.
That burned a hole in McQuate, who’s got an elephant’s memory. Even better, he’s got a strong will to work harder. That’s the fuel to his motor.
Analytical and light
“That was good competition,” McQuate said of the Dana Hills six-pack. “If I want to be faster, I have to work harder. I’ll get back at them, if I see them at the West Regionals in December at Mt. Sac, California. I’ll keep training hard and see how fast I can get.”
He’s looking for a college where he can run cross country and track, and major in exercise science. McQuate hasn’t picked out a particular future job title yet. But he definitely knows what he wants out of his major.
“I want to know how to make myself better as a runner and understand it,” he said. “I’m interested in how it all ties into running and training. I like doing the little things to improve, and knowing what went wrong, and analyze what happened in a race.”
If he were a golfer, course management — the discipline of thinking one’s way around 18 holes — would be his biggest weapon.
But he doesn’t always wear a serious, analytical T-shirt. There’s a light side to him, courtesy of his fellow Warriors.
McQuate turned 17 years old on Jan. 31. But he hears the “Happy Birthday” song from his teammates all the time. It’s an ongoing joke that brightens his day.
“It started last year after a HPA meet at Burger King,” he said. “One of my friends gave my a crown and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me in the restaurant.”
There he stood 10 feet from the finish line at Waiakea’s three-mile course, out of the sunshine and near the end of a 30-minute interview, explaining what makes him tick, when the song came.
After another rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ McQuate was asked two final questions: How’s it feel to always finish first and what is he most proud of? Both answers summed him up in a nutshell.
“It feels good, but winning is not everything. I pay attention to my times,” he said. “I’m most proud that I’m always going for the win to better my time, even if I’m not feeling good.”