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2015 Fall Sport Previews: Cross Country

News-Register file ##
With four returning state placers and a pair of talented newcomers in Arel Espinoza and Zane Fodge, the McMinnville boys cross country team will look to improve on its third-place finish at the 2014 Class 6A Greater Valley Conference Championships this fall.
News-Register file ## With four returning state placers and a pair of talented newcomers in Arel Espinoza and Zane Fodge, the McMinnville boys cross country team will look to improve on its third-place finish at the 2014 Class 6A Greater Valley Conference Championships this fall.
News-Register file ##
McMinnville senior Whitney Rich was the Grizzlies’ top performer in 2014, finishing third at the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference championships at Joe Dancer Park.
News-Register file ## McMinnville senior Whitney Rich was the Grizzlies’ top performer in 2014, finishing third at the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference championships at Joe Dancer Park.

It is no longer good enough for McMinnville cross country to simply show up.

The Grizzlies qualified boys’ and girls’ teams to the 2014 OSAA Class 6A State Cross Country Championships for the first time in 20 years. What followed leaves a sour taste in head coach Vic Downs’ mouth – McMinnville finished dead last, 18th out of 18 in the boys’ and girls’ team standings.

“We’re almost ready to make some shirts that say, ‘Never Again’,” Downs said. “We will be talking about top-10 finishes and not anything else. The expectations are going to be much higher than last year.”

And, while they’re at it, the Grizzlies will be tasked to do damage in the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference championships again. The Mac boys eked out a third-place team finish and a state qualifying berth last season despite a subpar day from top runner Devon Wilson. The Mac girls narrowly missed out on a 2014 league title.

In 2015, Wilson’s efforts will be reinforced with top-end runners while the Mac girls retain a core group led by two-time district champion Whitney Rich. Optimism abounds at Joe Dancer Park.

Wilson shook off his district performance to become McMinnville’s top finisher at 6A state in 2014, taking 38th place overall at Lane Community College in Eugene.

“Devon looks great. He’s been showing up to some open road runs and he just looks really strong,” Downs said. “He did a run that included a mile and a half uptempo and he was able to run at about a 5:45 (mile) pace. He’s going to have a good year.”

Sophomore Arel Espinoza and freshman Zane Fodge will bolster the Grizzlies’ lineup and potentially push Wilson in the process. Espinoza did not compete in cross country as a freshman but thrived for the Mac track team, posting a personal-best 1,500-meter time of 4 minutes, 17.95 seconds and running four 800-meter races below 2 minutes, 10 seconds. As an eighth-grader at Duniway Middle School last season, Fodge qualified for a USA Track & Field Junior Olympic cross country regional championship race (he skipped it due to illness). He holds the Joe Dancer Park cross country course record over 3,000 meters (9:44.63) but will be challenged with the 5,000-meter distance in high school.

Seniors Blake Ingram and Will Smothers and sophomore Michael Abeyta also competed in the 2014 state meet; Abeyta’s performance in the 2014 GVC championships (he finished 11th) was critical to the Grizzlies securing their state berth. Senior Jason Kiff is also expected to contend for a spot in McMinnville’s top seven.

“He had some injuries off and on but he’ll be pretty dang tough from what I’m seeing on his training,” Downs said of Kiff.

Fully healthy entering 2015, Rich was the McMinnville girls’ top runner, finishing third overall at the GVC championships and 46th overall at the 2014 state meet. Rich, who has spent the summer at an exchange program in Ecuador, also set the Joe Dancer Park course record for high school girls, clocking 19:48 at the 2014 Flat & Fast Invite.

“I’m curious to find out how she managed the logistics of running in Ecuador,” Downs said. “She ran a race down there and did really well – she won it. I don’t know if that’s kind of a one-and-done. We knew she was fit coming out of track.”

Senior Jessica Noyes and sophomores Josie Hall, Alyssa Moreland and Maddie Rollins were regular members of the McMinnville top seven, but all struggled at the 2014 state meet and did not finish among the top 110 runners. Rollins had established herself by season’s end as the Grizzlies’ third runner, behind Rich and the graduated Taylor Ford.

“She’s really tough. Just a tough kid,” Downs said. “Every race, she gives everything she can, like Whitney does. She’s just going to get better and better. She’s going to be a surprise, I think, for a lot of people.”

To bolster his depth, Downs is attempting to convince Mac soccer player Ally Legard, the GVC girls 800-meter champion in 2015, to double up on fall sports. The sixth and seventh spots in the varsity lineup are “up in the air,” Downs says, entering fall practices.

“Last year was kind of the year of the girls; this might be the year of the boys,” Downs said. “Devon being a senior, he’s going to lead a whole passel of guys to this GVC (championships). I think they’re going to be tough to beat.

“In our program, we make the seniors do everything. The expectation is, this is their team and they need to make sure it’s high-quality. (Wilson and Rich) both do a good job leading, leading by example. It should be a positive year.”

 

Yamhill-Carlton

For a third consecutive season, Perrin Xthona will set the pace for Yamhill-Carlton cross country.

Xthona qualified for the 2014 OSAA Class 4A State Cross Country Championships as a junior, finishing 19th overall in 20:22. Xthona, a 16-year-old senior, was one of two Y-C girls to compete at any meet in 2014.

On the boys’ side, Yamhill-Carlton nearly missed out on a team berth to the 4A state championships, finishing third in the Class 4A Oregon West Conference championships. Among the returns from that team are senior Derric Donehoo; juniors Dylan Duckworth, Dylan Schmidt, and Noah Mayhew; and sophomore Shane Davis.

 

Amity

Amity girls cross country was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2014 season, coming together to finish second at the 2014 Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Cross Country Championships and earning a berth to the OSAA Class 3A/2A/1A state championships. The Warriors finished 12th out of 12 teams at the state meet, held at Lane Community College.

“They’re all excited” to take a chance at a repeat, Amity coach Randy Hayes said.

“We lost four out of our top six runners. We’re just lucky we got Amy coming out and Karina coming out. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and not guaranteed by any means.”

Amy is sophomore Amy Kraemer, who qualified for the OSAA Class 3A State Track and Field Championships in the 100-meter hurdles as a freshman in 2014. Karina is freshman Karina Meza, a middle-school distance champion making the next step up in distance.

The pair will bolster a returning group that includes seniors Katelyn Prince – Amity’s top runner in 2014 – Meghan Drader and Lauren Walker for a competitive top five.

“She’s just a tireless worker,” Hayes said of Prince. “She just works and works and works. She’s our team captain this year.”

Amity, which returns 10 members of its combined cross country team from 2014, will benefit on the boys’ side from the continual good health of senior Troy Cole, who struggled with a midseason hip injury last year but is expected to be the Warriors’ top male runner in 2015.

“He’s in great shape,” Hayes said. “He’s been working out real hard over the summer.”

Senior Jared Ojua finished 22nd overall at the 2014 SD2 championships and will likely be Amity’s No. 2 runner. Seniors Chris Lindseth and Jacob Riley were among the Warriors’ top scorers, and Hayes is optimistic about the potential contributions of freshman Nathan Walker.

“He’s got long legs; he just runs,” Hayes said. “He’s going to be a good one down the road. He certainly has the tools to do it.”

 

Sheridan

Success for Sheridan cross country this fall will manifest itself in the form of team scorers.

Any number will do, as long as there are two of them.

The Spartans fielded full boys squads for all of their 2014 races but had no more than three girls competing at any one time. This summer, Sheridan coach Barb Justen has 30 student-athletes that have expressed interest in the sport.

“A lot more girls signed up,” Justen said. “(Junior) Alexis Whittington is coming back. We have some other girls who have decided to come out – they did track or some girls said, ‘Hey, that sounds like fun.’

“We’ll have more boys than girls, but if we could get even five girls that’d be enough for a team.”

Whittington will be the lone holdover from the girls’ side, but the boys return four of their top six competitors from the 2014 Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Championships, where the Spartans finished 11th out of 11 teams. Sophomores Jake Graham and Simon Huff, junior Hunter Michaelson and senior Kyle Magness all finished among the top 70 runners at the SD2 championships.

“What I always hope to see is that they’re ready,” Justen said. “If they’re out and already conditioned, and almost I’d like to see them at the times where they finished. We know they can improve and you can’t ask for much more than that.”

 

Willamina

The Willamina boys cross country team returns every member from the 2014 squad, which finished eighth at the Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Cross Country Championships. Seniors Michael Reyes and Cian Bailey-Saucy are expected to pace the squad, and juniors Justin Fasana and Logan DiBetta and sophomores Kyle Buczynski and Damian Anderson were point-scorers for the Bulldogs in 2014.

Numbers are thinner on the girls’ side, where juniors Georgia Haight and Katherine Morris were among the top 25 runners at the 2014 SD2 championships.

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