Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath...
If Crater coach Justin Loftus is right, there will be a lot of chips flying off shoulders during the Class 6A boys cross country state championship race.
Central Catholic and Jesuit, he surmises, hold grudges against Crater after the interloping Comets, up from 5A for the first time, won the title last year. The aforementioned schools had accounted for the previous eight crowns.
South Eugene, which holds the record for consecutive boys titles — it had eight in the 1970s — can be added to the chip list as Crater encroaches. The Comets have five straight, the second most in history.
And now the Comets. They aren't happy, either, following a disappointing effort at the Southwest Conference meet last week, where they were second to South Eugene. It was the first time in five years Crater hadn't won a boys or girls district championship.
So it'll all come to a head at state Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene.
A year ago, the Crater boys scored 59 points to outdistance Central Catholic (75) and Jesuit (101). This year, the top two teams appear to be South Eugene and Jesuit — in both the boys and girls divisions.
"The last five years on the guys' side, we've gone in as kind of the favorites," says Loftus. "This year we're definitely the underdog, so we'll see how we respond."
He's not ruling out a sixth title in a row.
At the district meet, he realized how close the Comets were to South Eugene.
At state, and with Jesuit in the mix, he says, "If we can pick off one, we might be able to pick off two."
It'll take a better effort than he saw at district. Halfway through the race, Crater had three runners in the top five and five in the top 10. But by the time the 5,000-meter race ended, several Comets had fallen by the wayside.
Crater senior Jon Obeso did claim the title, and teammate Neil Seibert was third. But Daniel Stoiber was the only other Comet in the top 10, and he was 10th.
"It hit all of us pretty hard at the district meet," says Loftus. "These guys really look up to the generation before them, and they feel let down for that reason. Everybody has worked pretty hard to get to this point, and the conference was an eye-opener. They're starting to figure out that the guys who came through in the past are not there to carry them along. They have to do it themselves.
"That's a hard realization for those guys. 'It's on my shoulders. I've got to do it now.'"
They don't talk about the streak of state titles, but it's there.
"It's a hard thing to live up to," says Loftus. "There are a lot of teams out there with pretty good athletes."
Seibert is ranked sixth and Obeso ninth among 6A runners.
Other local entrants are North Medford's Ray Shireman and Blake Spencer and South Medford's Camden Stemple.
The Crater girls could make a run at a trophy as well. With Sarah Hastings and Gracie Tostenson leading the way, they'd need a top-four finish to garner hardware.
Hastings had a terrific performance at district, finishing second to break up South Eugene's dynamic duo of Sara Tsai (first) and Erin Clark (third).
The Axemen runners have the top two times in the state, while Hastings ranks 13th and Tostenson 19th.
South Medford's Lauren Morgan is also entered.
At the 4A level, Phoenix's girls team is in after placing second in the Skyline Conference. Nevina De Luca, Lindsey Vermillion and Kelly Coash all had top-10 placings at district.