TACOMA — Washougal’s Dylan Croeni didn’t exactly take the most direct path to becoming a state-championship distance runner.
There was a detour through golf, and an uphill struggle to improve, and the roadblock of a near miss at the state cross country meet.
But on Thursday, Croeni finally crossed the finish line first, winning the boys 3,200 meters at the Class 2A state track and field meet at Mount Tahoma High School.
“I’ve been training for today,” the Washington State-bound senior said. “I’ve been training so I could wear a gold medal around my neck.”
He earned the honor by finishing in 9:23.61, holding off Patrick Gibson of Squalicum, who finished in 9:25.00.
For somebody who went out for the golf team as a freshman, and then finished 74th in the state cross country meet as a sophomore, it was the culmination of a winding road to excellence on the track.
“I was never a runner,” Croeni said. “I’ve only been running fast for a year-and-a-half.”
Croeni’s first brush with speed came his junior year, when he improved to fourth in the state in cross country and qualified for the state meet in track. His first brush with crushing disappointment came last fall, when he finished second at the state cross country meet by one second.
With that result as motivation, Croeni set his sights on a track championship.
“My workouts were designed for the last 300 meters at state,” he said.
Good thing, too.
After leading a tightly bunched pack for most of the first seven laps, Croeni surged ahead early in the final lap.
“This morning when I was laying in my bed, that was the last way I thought it would unfold,” he said. “The way the race was run, for me, I’ve never run like that. I don’t ever want to be in first that first lap.”
But the slow, strategic pace forced him to the front.
“The goal was 9:10; it didn’t unfold as 9:10,” Croeni said. “I thought, ‘OK, it’s going to be a kick race the final 300.”
Croeni opened up a big lead, carrying it around the final turn and daring to glance out of the corner of his eye to see the field behind him.
“I didn’t see anybody,” he said. “I’m like, ‘That’s good. I’m OK.’ ”
Gibson closed the gap in the homestretch, but never got within striking distance. And that left Croeni clutching his ultimate goal.
“It’s all about this gold medal,” he said. “I don’t care if I ran 10 minutes, as long as I’ve got the gold medal.”
In other highlights Thursday from the Class 2A meet:
• Washougal’s Kelley Young had a smooth run while reaching today’s final in the 100 hurdles.
“I had to adjust to the weather, but it felt pretty good,” Young said after qualifying second in 15.69, running through a fierce wind. “I feel so ready. I’m excited to be here.”
Amadi Bentley of Renton led the qualifying in 15.50.
• Woodland’s William Davis qualified seventh in the boys 110 hurdles, finishing in 15.73.