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EUGENE — There was a runner in the Class 3A/2A/1A cross country state championships who ran strong and stole the show among local entrants.
But it wasn't who you might expect.
With heralded conference champion Sarah Bennion of St. Mary's faltering and Cascade Christian schoolmate and contender Hudson Eustace doing likewise in the boys race, Stephanie Croy stepped to the fore.
Croy, who was ranked eighth entering the meet, ran a tactical race throughout, finished with a burst and placed fourth in 19 minutes, 57 seconds over 5,000 meters at Lane Community College Saturday.
Class 3A/2A/1A seemed to provide the best opportunity for a state champion from southern Oregon. Bennion was ranked second going in and owned a distance state title in track from last spring. Ditto in track for Eustace, who was ranked fourth this fall and last year owned the state's best time.
Neither held up physically, however, with Bennion placing ninth and Eustace sixth.
The St. Mary's girls didn't leave the meet empty-handed, though, as they moved up several spots from their seeding and finished fourth, landing a trophy.
Union won with 80 points. St. Mary's scored 131, edging Southwest Christian by one point.
Croy, a sophomore who was second to the senior Bennion in the District 6 meet last week, fit in perfectly with a youth movement in the girls division. Winner Olivia Powell (18:57) is a freshman at Creswell, and five of the next six placers — Bennion being the exception — are sophomores.
Croy has gained confidence in the latter part of the season, in part because of her competition with Bennion. At the district meet, the Challenger youngster led most of the way before being overtaken.
"I didn't really think I could keep up with her," said Croy, whose season best is 19:47, set at the Concordia Puma Classic. "And then at district, I was able to. So my goal was just to stay with her again. It was a huge advantage to me. I didn't think I'd be able to. I thought I was way lower."
In fact, she was a step ahead, and then some, for most of the race.
Even though the race went out faster than she expected, Croy finished with a strong kick, securing a berth at the Border Clash race between Oregon and Washington teams in two weeks in Beaverton.
"I felt pretty good," said Croy. "Close to the end, I felt like I was going to give up, but I really just persevered. I really wanted to make it to Border Clash."
Neither Bennion nor Eustace could admit to feeling well.
Bennion had a fitful night's sleep prior to the morning race in chilly, damp conditions and wasn't sufficiently hydrated, she said. Apart from a surge at the end, she labored throughout.
"Usually right before a big race, my body starts to freak out," said Bennion, who ran 20:29. "I woke up like seven times in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. You can't expect your body to do that much."
She realized in the first mile, when others were passing her and she didn't have the gumption to fend them off, that her fitness was compromised.
Bennion, who also stars on the Crusaders' No. 2-ranked soccer team, refused to blame her fatigue on playing two sports.
"I think it's just stress," she said. "It was just me not doing what I was supposed to be doing."
After the race, Bennion slumped to the infield turf on the Lane CC track and rolled to her back. Croy helped her up, and Bennion wobbled into the runners' finishing tent.
"I think that's the closest I've ever come to fainting," said Bennion. "It's crazy, not a good feeling."'
Freshmen Maddy Schwartz (21:51) and Olivia Minor (21:52) placed 33rd and 34th, respectively, to buoy St. Mary's trophy dash.
Eustace, meanwhile, could empathize with Bennion about feeling out of sorts.
He had high hopes of becoming Cascade Christian's first individual champion, and it seemed doable entering the final mile of the 3.1-mile race. He ran fourth, just off the pace of the leaders, exhibiting patience and preparing to make his move.
Then a side ache crept in, followed by nausea.
"I thought, 'Huh, this is weird,'" he said. "I never had that before. Then I just started throwing up all down the back stretch. I tried to run through it, but I got to where I couldn't even breathe and just had to stop and get it up."
Eustace pulled over for 10 to 15 seconds, he said, then resumed.
"I don't know how I finished," he said.
His time was 16:30, which, given the circumstances, is quite respectable. Joseph Ewers of Central Linn won in 16:02.
Eustace said he didn't change his routine or eat anything suspicious before the race.
"I don't know what happened," he said. "It's definitely disappointing. But champions aren't made on how they handle success, it's based on how they handle failure. Hopefully, I'm going to walk away from this and allow it to give me motivation for training and get ready for regionals."
Regional competition is in early December.
Cascade Christian, coming off its fourth straight district title, placed 12th overall.
TEAM SCORES — Valley Catholic 73, Pleasant Hill 106, Union 119, East Linn Christian 146, Southwest Christian 175, New Hope Christian 179, Nyssa 193, Creswell 196, Central Linn 211, Oregon Episcopal 222, Westside Christian 257, Cascade Christian 258, Crow 274, Bandon 293.
TOP 10 FINISHERS — 1, Joseph Ewers, Central Linn, 16:02; 2, Ryan Magg, Nyssa, 16:14; 3, Zach Holloway, Central Linn, 16:16; 4, Nick Obletz, Oregon Episcopal, 16:21; 5, Connor Garcia, Valley Catholic, 16:29; 6, Hudson Eustace, Cascade Christian, 16:30; 7, David Ribich, Enterprise, 16:31; 8, Nicholas Cooper, Pleasant Hill, 16:39; 9, Adam Siltala, Clatskanie, 16:47; 10, Kody Osborne, East Linn Christian, 16:48.
OTHER LOCAL FINISHERS — 13, Chris Merlos, New Hope Christian, 16:58; 25, Christian Huttema, New Hope Christian, 17:24; 31, David Johnson, New Hope Christian, 17:31; 40, Alex Cummings, Cascade Christian, 17:56; 72, Tim McPherson, Cascade Christian 19:10; 73, Spencer Martin, New Hope Christian, 19:11; 74, Ricky Reebel, New Hope Christian, 19:12; 83, Adam Barth, New Hope Christian, 19:30; 87, Steven Mein, Cascade Christian, 19:43; 94, Ryan Price, Cascade Christian, 19:59; 98, Jonas Lundrgren, New Hope Christian, 20:20; 101, Justin Casebier, Cascade Christian, 20:41.
TEAM SCORES — Union 80, Catlin Gabel 124, Kennedy 126, St. Mary's 131, Southwest Christian 132, Valley Catholic 130, Nyssa 158, Cascade Christian 203, Pleasant Hill 206, Blanchet Catholic 243, East Linn Christian 249, Westside Christian 276, Bandon 304, Crow 381.
TOP 10 FINISHERS — 1, Olivia Powell, Creswell, 18:57; 2, Katriel O'Reilly, Union, 19:04; 3, McKenzie Evans, Union, 19:47; 4, Stephanie Croy, Cascade Christian, 19:57; 5, Rebecca Anna, Southwest Christian, 20:01; 6, McKenzie Spooner, Catlin Gabel, 20:11; 7, Sarah Estabrook, Triad, 20:13; 8, Kristen Hankins, Triad, 20:27; 9, Sarah Bennion, St. Mary's, 20:29; 10, Taylor Williams, Cascade Christian, 20:29.
OTHER LOCAL FINISHERS — 33, Maddy Schwartz, St. Mary's, 21:51; 34, Olivia Minor, St. Mary's, 21:52; 46, Lillian Martin, St. Mary's, 22:09; 50, Rayna Gasik, St. Mary's, 22:22; 51, Brooklyn Gillespie, St. Mary's, 22:24; 69, Anna Murphy, Cascade Christian, 23:13; 70, Elise Vasey, St. Mary's, 23:16; 74, Brittany Brown, Cascade Christian, 23:33; 86, Jessica Nicholes, Cascade Christian, 24:31.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org