Although it raised a state championship trophy just outside University Place last month, the Curtis girls track and field team's title run might have started a month earlier 250 miles away in Pasco.
That's when the girls experienced something they'd talk about the rest of the season. En route to their lodging for the Pasco Invitational, the team bus passed by a raggedy building that tried to pass as a hotel.
The girls kept poking fun at it until the vehicle began to pull into its parking lot. The raggedy hotel was theirs.
"We absolutely hated it," Coach Sarah Burns tells Patch. "But we grew so close."
"We had an amazing meet the next day."
It wasn’t necessarily their performance that was significant. It was the fact that they bonded. For Burns - a state triple jump and long jump champion during Curtis’ title runs in 2003 and 2004 before moving onto Washington State University – she had always believed in a team-oriented approach to track and field, even if most events consisted of individual feats.
That wasn’t the case when she took over the Vikings this year.
“That wasn’t there,” she said. “One of my biggest concerns was this wasn’t a team … the biggest thing for me, I’ve always been on a team that was very cohesive. Very family-like. We all got along.”
“But when I got here that was one of the concerns that was brought to my attention,” she says. “It wasn’t what I felt I thought it should be.”
It was noticeable among the whole team, even with two of the Vikings’ most-gifted athletes, juniors Kennadi Bouyer and Kira Perkins.
But Burns says the team somehow bought into her philosophy.
Maybe it was the sting of not making it to state the prior year. Maybe it was the fact that she made the team do everything together. Maybe it was just that, at only 25 (she’ll turn 26 in July), Burns was young and could relate better with her athletes.
Whatever the reason, they jumped head-first into her belief.
“A lot of attitudes change for the better this year,” the coach says. “It was cool to see. The excitement, the enthusiasm was back.”
No more so than with Bouyer and Perkins.
“Kira and Kennadi, becoming friends and getting along. They're not rivals, but they more so wanted to help each other. Just to see them all pull together. To see that was great.”
But attitude could only get them so far. There was still a matter of performing on the track and field.
In the previous year, the Curtis girls had a woeful showing at state. This year, in late May at Mount Tahoma High School, they had six competitors in multiple events.
By the time it was over, they had captured first in four events of the 4A division.
Bouyer had won both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
The girls 4x100-meter (Perkins, Bouyer, Shelby Vaver and Kenya Shakoor) and 4x200-meter (Perkins, Vaver, Shakoor and Adreonia Bradley) teams also captured state titles.
Burns says the handoffs were seamless; the relay legs were run with precision.
In the end, however, it was the team score in which Burns and the rest of the Vikings might place the most pride.
Curtis 62, Auburn-Riverside 55.
They had done it. They had bested their rival. They had gone from high school drama in the beginning of the season to state champs at the end.
“I was so excited,” Burns says. “In 2003, we won with five people. I knew we could run with six people. The six people we have are very competitive.”
“In the end, it’s who shows up that day. Who comes together that day.”
Or that year.
There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a fan of Curtis girls track and field. The team is returning its core of athletes. Burns will have a year of coaching under her belt. It will’ll also be entering the season as state champs with high expectations.
But considering what it accomplished this year, Burns has faith in her team.
“This was the year of overcoming adversity,” she said. “It just had to deal with building a program from the ground up.”
And that’s something no one can take away, no matter what hotel the team chooses.