Above par for the course
In its first season in the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference, McMinnville cross country is rolling out the welcome mat.
The Grizzlies’ home course, Joe Dancer Park, will host four varsity meets in 2014, including the GVC Championships on Wednesday, Oct. 22. As Mac coach Vic Downs sees it, hosting the championship meet is a necessary step in ingraining the Grizzlies into a league with the Salem schools, McNary of Keizer, Forest Grove and West Albany.
“I’ve wanted that a long time and I think it’s a good venue for it,” Downs said. “We’re going to make it a little more wide-open and spectator-friendly.”
And McMinnville, approximately 70 in number as it begins the 2014 season, intends to put on a show.
Junior Whitney Rich claimed Class 6A Pacific Conference championships in her first two seasons, but a stress fracture in her right leg prematurely ended her 2013 season. Rich is on a short list of front-runners for the GVC girls individual title with West Salem junior Brooke Chuhlantseff, the runaway champion of the Class 6A Central Valley Conference last season.
“She’s going to be in for the race of her life when it comes to districts this year,” Downs said.
The McMinnville girls were talented but inexperienced in 2013; all of the top seven runners at the Pacific Conference championships were sophomores or juniors. However, that same group finished eighth out of eight teams at the district meet, and OSAA Class 6A state meet berths will be earned, not given, in the GVC.
“There was a lot of talk after we got eighth place at the district meet (about) how we did not want that to happen again,” Downs said. “The girls are definitely committed to improving. I think we’re already a better team than we were last year at the end of the season.”
Seniors Taylor Ford and Claire Bernhisel and junior Jessica Noyes emerged as the Grizzlies’ most consistent runners behind Rich in 2013. Senior Erin Allison and juniors Mya Clover-Owens and Paige Benner were also among Mac’s top seven runners at the district meet.
Lest the returners act complacent, Downs predicts that freshmen Josie Hall and Maddie Rollins will compete for spots among the Grizzlies’ top five runners.
“I think we’ll be improved from last year because I think these two freshmen girls are going to close the gap between Whitney and our No. 2 (runner).
The McMinnville boys will be undergoing what Downs calls a “reloading year” after the graduation of senior standouts Nic McDaniel (the Pacific Conference runner-up in 2013), Wes Noble and Robby Thomas, among others. Junior Devon Wilson, who finished 14th at districts last year, returns to the Grizzlies as the team’s top runner.
“Devon had a really good summer,” Downs said. “He’s in great shape and I think he’s going to see some pretty good success.”
Senior Liam McKeegan and junior Micah Steeves also finished among McMinnville’s top seven at districts and are expected to be among the Grizzlies’ top scorers. Junior Jason Kiff, who missed all of last season’s competition, is “kind of our secret weapon,” according to Downs.
As with the girls, freshmen could play a vital role in team success. Alex Howard and Cody Brown are two who have impressed Downs early on.
“I’m excited to see them race,” he said.
In Derric Donehoo and Perrin Xthona, Yamhill-Carlton has top runners to go against the best of Class 4A.
Tigers coach Brian Altree’s challenge is to cultivate depth.
As of last week, Y-C stood at 15 runners strong, with Xthona (pronounced cuh-THOUGH-nuh) the only female runner.
“I know I’ll have kids popping up (this) week,” he said. “That just always happens.”
Depending upon who appears, Altree could have a boys squad that makes noise in the Class 4A Oregon West Conference.
Donehoo finished 10th at the Class 4A Cowapa League Championships in 2013, second among Y-C runners to senior teammate Ben Tracy. According to Altree, Donehoo has continued to improve over the summer.
“Derric’s got a great attitude,” Altree said. “He loves to run. He’s one of those kids that’s always wanting to do more.”
Sophomore Dylan Duckworth and junior Chris Shirkey finished 27th and 28th, respectively, at the 2013 district race; Duckworth, who attends Gaston High School but competes for the Tigers, and Shirkey are expected to be the second and third runners for Y-C. Seniors Isaiah Cooper and Ben McKinney round out the Tigers’ expected top five.
Xthona qualified for the 2013 OSAA State Cross Country Championships for the second consecutive year and finished 22nd overall. Reclassification, graduations and personal improvement could vault her even higher up the standings as a junior this year.
Though Xthona lacks female training partners, she has plenty of help from the Y-C boys in practice.
“They have a tough time usually staying with her,” Altree said. “She’s pretty focused and driven.”
Amity head coach Randy Hayes is taking the long view in his first year atop the Warriors’ program.
Hayes, a former Linfield assistant coach who works with Amity Track Club and the Amity High School throwers, is looking to build Amity cross country into a full-fledged program. He was hired in June and has had to learn about his team on the fly.
“Lot of new faces, but I think it’s going to be cool,” Hayes said. “Great group of kids, from what I’ve seen. I’m really going to enjoy this a lot.”
Amity was highly competitive in Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 in 2013. The girls finished second and earned a rare team berth to the OSAA Class 3A State Cross Country Championships. The boys finished fourth at the district meet, with four breaking 20 minutes over 5,000 meters.
Senior Chase Morrison leads the Amity boys into the season after finishing 23rd at the 2013 district meet.
“With his body, I don’t know why he couldn’t be awesome,” Hayes said. “He’s got a good mental attitude.”
The Amity girls lost two of their top five scorers to graduation but return a strong corps in juniors Katelyn Prince and Lauren Walker and seniors Laura Affolter and Katelynn Bliven. Junior Meghan Drader, a sprinter on the Amity track and field team, has joined the cross country team and is expected to be among the top scorers.
“I think she’s going to have an amazing season in track after she gets through here,” Hayes said.
The Sheridan cross country team may lack in numbers in 2014, but the Spartans hope for improvement across the board.
Sheridan has six boys and one girl out for the sport, including senior Peyton James, the team leader. James was the Spartans’ top finisher at the Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Championships in 2013, taking 28th place overall.
“He’s in great shape,” Sheridan coach Barb Justen said. “He should start off his goal to stay under 20 minutes in as many meets as he can.”
Senior Zack Monroe, junior Kyle Magness and sophomore Hunter Michaelson also have varsity experience. In addition, Sheridan will receive contributions from freshmen Jake Graham and Simon Huff.
Senior Alivia Hermens is the only Spartan female out for cross country. Hermans finished in 34th place at the Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Championships in 2013.
“She’s done well running during the summer and looks better than ever,” Justen said. “I think she’s pleased with where she’s at right now.
A young Willamina cross country team took its lumps in 2013 but may emerge from that experience much improved.
“They’re all back,” Bulldogs head coach Ariah Fasana said.
Indeed, among the Willamina boys, four of the five scorers from the Class 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 Championships are back, and then some. Fasana expects junior Michael Reyes to lead the Bulldogs, with junior Cian Bailey-Saucy and sophomores Justin Fasana and Logan DiBetta shoring up team depth.
In freshmen Kyle Buczynski and Isaiah Holmes, the Bulldogs have more talented athletes to round out team scoring.
“I think (Kyle) is going to be a varsity runner this year for us,” Fasana said.
Willamina returns three of its four female participants from 2013 in junior Heidi Bryant and sophomores Georgia Haight and Brianna Hernandez. One new member of the team is sophomore Katherine Morris, who participated with the Bulldogs’ track team in the spring and “might be our fastest runner,” according to Fasana.
“We’ve got some girls that aren’t real competitive in practice but they like to beat each other in meets,” Fasana said. “We’ll see what happens.”