When he was putting together his initial football staff at North Medford High, Mike Mitchell put a particularly different spin on his...
ASHLAND — Some sports are supposed to have full contact.
Cross country isn't one of them.
As such, when on-course jostling escalated to a tussle at the finish line and in the adjoining chute, North Medford's Blake Spencer and Roseburg's Kenny Freeman were disqualified from the State of Jefferson Invitational at Lithia Park Saturday.
The two, who run at about the same level and have had ample opportunity for skirmishes during the past couple cross country and track and field seasons, were the third and fourth runners to finish the 5,000-meter boys race following a contentious trip along the park's tree-shrouded trails.
It reached a boiling point, said the senior Spencer, when Freeman, a junior, tried to pass him in the last 50 meters but bumped his shoulder. According to Spencer, their legs became entangled, Freeman went down and Spencer jumped over him and across the finish.
Freeman then shoved Spencer in the back, said the North Medford runner. Spencer walked away, but Freeman followed. The two had words, then were separated when it seemed it would get more physical.
Spencer and North Medford coach Piet Voskes spoke about the confrontation. Roseburg coach Nate Eckman declined comment, and Freeman left the meet soon after officials made the ruling and wasn't interviewed.
The incident overshadowed the rest of the proceedings, which included John Whelan, of Etna, Calif., setting the boys course record, and Crater junior Gracie Tostenson running away with the girls title for the second straight year.
There were 10 full boys and girls teams and 19 schools represented.
Whelan, who just missed the record last year in placing second, was timed in 15 minutes, 47.55 seconds. Henley's Zorg Loustalet set the standard of 15:49.3 in that race.
"Coming back here, I really wanted to get that course record I was so close to," said Whelan, a senior. "It's a tough course. It takes a lot of focus, so it was really hard out there just kind of running by myself."
North Valley's Jonathan Cornish was second in 16:11.67. Spencer and Freeman were about four seconds behind, then came Cornish's brother, David, in 16:32.02.
Spencer's removal prevented the Black Tornado from winning the team crown. North Medford, which had only six runners, tied Shasta, Calif., for first place with 52 points. Ties are broken by the sixth-place runners, but the Black Tornado didn't have one.
Host Ashland and Crater were deadlocked for the girls title, too, and Ashland prevailed when its sixth runner came in two spots ahead of the Comets'.
Tostenson, contending with the onset of a cold, breezed to victory in 19:27.66. Helen Mino Faukner of University Prep in Shasta County was second in 19:57.57.
Neither Spencer nor Freeman seemed particularly bent out of shape once the hubbub died down.
Spencer spoke in a matter-of-fact, albeit candid, manner, and before Freeman left the grounds, he was seen joking with his coach and family.
"We've been pretty competitive throughout the race season in track and here in cross country," said Spencer. "Tension with competitiveness, it was getting a little too hot."
He said the two "battled for position" on the course for the last 11/2 miles. It got physical, he said, and that alone might have warranted review had the finish-line escapade not occurred right in front of race officials.
Spencer said the two had an incident in the Southwest Conference Pre-District Meet last month at TouVelle State Park.
"It wasn't anywhere near the finish," he said. "We were just battling for position on a corner and it got a little bit out (of hand). Then we separated during the race."
The incident was reminiscent of another one on the same course two years ago. A Mountain View runner was ruled to have impeded an Ashland runner during the teams' district meet, and the former was disqualified, thereby giving Ashland's team the No. 2 berth to state.
The Grizzlies, dissatisfied with how they gained the berth, then turned it down, allowing Mountain View to go.
If a similar Spencer-Freeman incident were to happen in two weeks at the SWC meet — which determines who qualifies for state — the consequence could be much more severe.
"Kids are going to be aggressive and you want that aggressiveness," said Voskes, "but you also want them to be smart and contain some of that emotion. They'll both learn from it and make adjustments."
The Black Tornado — which also placed Ray Schireman, Caleb Diaz and Devyn Baldovino in the top 10 — used the meet to fine-tune race tactics for district, said Voskes, such as running in packs and making mid-race adjustments.
North Medford will be the district favorite.
"We called this a mental-toughness meet," said the coach. "We want to use it as a springboard for the next two weeks of training."
Tostenson was easy to spot as she worked her way through the woods. The Comets wear bright orange, knee-high socks.
"It's just something fun to do," she laughed.
So is winning, of which she's making a habit.
Tostenson successfully defended her title, bettering her time of last year by nearly four seconds.
Her plan was to let someone else set the early pace, and Faukner obliged.
"The first mile went out pretty fast," said Tostenson. "I just tried to pace myself, then take it out from there."
Ashland's Madeline Chaves was fourth, North Medford's Jaycie Dickson was fifth and Crater and the Black Tornado each had two others in the top 10.
TEAM SCORES — *Shasta 52, North Medford 52, North Valley 53, Crater 86, Roseburg 128, Mt. Shasta 169, Ashland 189, University Prep 198, Mazama 223, Henley 236.
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 25) — 1, John Whelan, Etna, 15:47.55; 2, Jonathan Cornish, NV, 16:11.67; 3, David Cornish, NV, 16:32.02; 4, Blake Zufall, Sha, 16:37.55; 5, Landon Woollard, Sha, 16:40.99; 6, Ray Schireman, NM, 16:45.74; 7, Caleb Diaz, NM, 16:49.21; 8, Todd Delaney, Maz, 16:53.14; 9, Benjamin Rodriguez, Ros, 16:54.42; 10, Devyn Baldovino, NM, 17:01.73.
11, John Martinez, Cra, 17:07.19; 12, Joey Rincon, NM, 17:18.12; 13, Andrew Davalos, NV, 17:20.08; 14, John Serna, NV, 17:20.66; 15, Josh Bland, Sha, 17:22.09; 16, Hunter Jensen, Sha, 17:22.77; 17, Riley Davis, Sha, 17:26.23; 18, Austin Sanders, Cra, 17:33.88; 19, Mike Shaw, Cra, 17:34.55; 20, Devin Rodman, Cra, 17:38.88; 21, Chris Cazneaux, Mt.S, 17:42.65; 22, Connor Covey, NM, 17:44.04; 23, Darien Andrews, Cra, 17:45; 24, Michael Cook, Mt.S, 17:45.65; 25, Chris Morzenti, Mt.S, 17:53.14.
* won on tiebreaker
TEAM SCORES — *Ashland 53, Crater 53, University Prep 84, Grants Pass 104, Mt. Shasta 123, North Medford 129, Shasta 142, Roseburg 187, Henley 231, Trinity 295.
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 25) — 1, Gracie Tostenson, Cra, 19:27.66; 2, Helen Mino Faukner, UP, 19:57.57; 3, Sarah Estabrook, TC, 20:21.08; 4, Madeline Chaves, Ash, 20:41.50; 5, Jaycie Dickson, NM, 20:53.64; 6, Ellen Sampson, Mt.S, 20:59.53; 7, Janina Zimmerman, Cra, 20:59.99; 8, Britney Wimberly, Cra, 21:00.63; 9, Megan Ganim, Ash, 21:07.81; 10, Kia Parrish-Haim, Ash, 21:14.11.
11, Alyssa Stauffer, UP, 21:17.02; 12, Charity Schmidt, 21:18.14; 13, Maite Bradley Silva, Sha, 21:18.72; 14, Haylee Wallace, GP, 21:19.52; 15, Nathalie Avalos, Sha, 21:26.91; 16, Megan Hoffman, UP, 21:34.13; 17, Quinn Blackwolf, Ash, 21:40.21; 18, Sara Dunagan, Ash, 21:48.67; 19, Tori Sigel, GP, 21:50.87; 20, Megan Hastings, Cra, 21:54.10; 21, Jordon Monroe, Cra, 21:57.01; 22, Julie Ostrowski, Mt.S, 21:58.97; 23, Jessica Pettegrew-Samm, NM, 21:59.96; 24, Olivia Tardieu, GP, 22:03.25; 25, Jenna Anderson, Ros, 22:04.11.
* won on tiebreaker
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com