Runners ready for start gun Saturday at state
When McMinnville junior Nic McDaniel toes the starting line Saturday at the 6A state championship cross-country race at Lane Community College in Eugene, he won’t be alone. Standing right next to him will be teammate Ronnie Graham and watching from the sidelines will be a host of Grizzlies teammates.
“I won’t be warming up by myself in the pouring rain and when everyone is under the tent,” McDaniel said of the biggest difference between qualifying for state this year and last year.
“Two men on the line,” Graham said.
Freshman Whitney Rich will be a bit more alone on the starting line as the only McMinnville runner to qualify for state after she won the Pacific Conference district meet last week.
“It’s always helpful to have company,” McMinnville coach Vic Downs said. “That’s why we take down a whole group instead of just a couple of kids.
“It’s more of an event. It’s a culminating activity for the season. It’s the exclamation point at the end.”
McDaniel finished 75th last year at the state championships, and he spent all of the summer and season preparing himself to make it back. He ran more hills over the summer because McDaniel thought he was weak on them last year. He went to a running camp with some of the fastest runners in the state over the summer, and the hard work paid off. McDaniel won the Pacific Conference district meet Oct. 25, and Graham finished eighth, just qualifying for state.
Graham said one of his goals for Saturday’s race, which starts at 3 p.m., is to beat McDaniel’s time from last season.
McDaniel’s goal is to finish in the top 18 and qualify for the Boarder Clash, an annual race between the top runners in the states of Oregon and Washington.
“If he starts out in the top 20, he has a good shot at it,” Downs said. “His best race is Saturday. He had a great race down in Albany (Oct. 6 at the Harrier Classic) where he showed that he could run with the fast guys, and now he has another shot of running with the same people.”
McDaniel said he was kind of afraid last year by the faster runners in the pack. This year, he’s going to find one and stick with him.
“I kind of know the guys,” McDaniel said, “and just kind of spot some guys and try and stay with them.”
In the girls race, Downs said Rich had a real shot of placing in the top 15 and also qualifying for the Border Clash.
“She can break 19 minutes as well,” Downs said. “I think she can do all that her freshman year this weekend. Conditions might be cruddy. They might make it tough. That’s a possibility, but she has a low center of gravity. On this course, it’s perfect. She’s suited for this course very well.”
The course at Lane Community College in Eugene could be slightly wet, but the early forecast from The Weather Channel is that there is only a 20 percent chance of rain and overcast.
Rich said she’s well prepared for state and actually likes running in cooler temperatures.
“I’m excited for the conditions,” she said. “I don’t run well when it’s warm.”
Rich’s freshman season has been one success after another. She won two races in September and broke the 20-minute mark in her second win Sept. 26 at a dual meet with Tigard. She then finished 11th and 12th in back-to-back races against some of the fastest runners in the state, and Rich also tacked on two more wins after that.
Rich said after the first league meet she won in early September, she started thinking about what was possible.
“I think it helped me to work harder because I knew I had a chance of extending my season all the way to state,” she said.
As for being the only Mac runner in the race, Rich said it won’t bother her too much when her race starts at 2:25 p.m. Saturday.
“I’ll have that support,” she said, “and I’m sure they’ll cheer me on during the race.”
The Yamhill-Carlton girls cross-country team qualified for the 4A state meet Saturday with a second-place finish last week at the Cowapa League Championships at Camp Rilea outside of Warrenton.
The Tigers had a great day at districts, with sisters Savannah and Samantha Gardner finishing fourth and fifth respectively and Journey Adams finishing 12th.
The Tigers won’t be favored to win the team title. Savannah Gardner has the 47th fastest time this season at 4A, and she is Y-C’s fastest runner.
The 4A girls race starts at 11:15 a.m. Saturday.