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TOUVELLE STATE PARK — Even though it competed in a cross country meet in the middle of nowhere, the North Medford boys team made this scenic venue feel like home.
And those comforts paid off nicely as the Black Tornado captured the district championship of the prestigious Southwest Conference — it boasts three of the state's top five teams based on coaches' rankings — on Thursday, thereby qualifying for next week's state meet.
"It's advantageous for once that we had the meet down here," said North Medford coach Piet Voskes after the Black Tornado claimed only its third district crown since the early 1980s. "We were out here a lot trying to take advantage of it. We knew it would be very, very close."
North Medford scored 58 points, edging Sheldon and South Eugene by two points each. The first five runners for each team factor in team scoring. Sheldon was accorded second place over the Axemen based on the tiebreaker of its sixth runner finishing ahead of South Eugene's — albeit by only one place.
The top two teams and the top four individuals not on those teams advance to state Nov. 3 at Lane Community College in Eugene.
In the girls meet, South Medford secured a state berth by coming in second to South Eugene. The Axemen scored 29 points, and the Panthers had 66. Crater was third with 74.
Individual titles in the 5,000-meter races went to Eugene runners.
Sheldon's Jackson Darland won the boys race in 16 minutes, 5.78 seconds, beating out Roseburg's Kenny Freeman (16:09.63). The top area finisher and the only other local runner to make state was Daniel Stoiber of Crater, who was fifth in 16:23.81.
Sara Tsai of South Eugene held off teammate Erin Clark to take the girls race in 17:31.08. Clark's time was 17:32.01. Crater's Gracie Tostenson earned a trip to state, placing sixth with a time of 19:28.15.
The Black Tornado boys, who also won conference titles in 2006 and '09, didn't leave anything to chance. They've trained on the course since last summer, including once or twice a week during the season.
"We wanted them to know every thousand (meters), every corner, the back route," said Voskes. "They needed to feel like this was just an extension of North Medford. They took advantage of it."
When the Black Tornado runners, led by top-10 placers Blake Spencer and Ray Schireman, made their way a second time on a loop that stretched into the park, they knew precisely where the 2,000-meter mark was and what they needed to do, said Voskes.
"I'm not sure we win this at the halfway point," he said. "But they took advantage of moving up. We won this because our third, fourth and fifth guys came through. They fought. They've grown up tremendously."
Spencer placed seventh in 16:25.70, followed closely by Schireman.
Caleb Diaz (11th), Devyn Baldovino (14th) and Joey Rincon (18th) were the other counting North Medford runners.
"We knew we'd have to win it by committee," said Voskes, "and not have one guy run well and four along for the ride."
He credited Rincon, in his first varsity season, as being the team's catalyst.
"If he runs well, this team runs well," said the coach.
Spencer wasn't pleased with his own race, feeling as though he tailed off in the second mile. But he was proud of his teammates.
"We raced very well as a team," he said. "The whole first mile, our whole team was very, very tightly packed. We have a very talented group, one of the most talented to come through North, at least we think and the coaches think."
Carmen Mejia paced the South Medford girls, placing seventh in 19:36.91. Teammate Lela Stemple was ninth, 12 seconds behind her. Three other Panthers were in the top 20: Victoria Haynes (15th), Tristan Husted (16th) and Amy Watson (19th).
South Medford was ranked second in the conference, but gaining a state berth wasn't a sure thing.
"We've always wanted to go as a team to state," said Mejia. "We knew we were ranked second, but Crater is known for being really, really strong at the district meet. We were able to hold them off."
Mejia aimed for a top-seven finish and was pleased to get it.
"It hurt a lot," said the senior. "I kicked earlier than I usually do so I could really feel it, but it was definitely worth it."
TEAM SCORES — North Medford 58, Sheldon 60, South Eugene 60, Crater 93, Roseburg 101, South Medford 105, Thurston 153, Grants Pass 190.
TOP 25 INDIVIDUALS — 1, Jackson Darland, She, 16:05.78; 2, Kenny Freeman, Ros, 16:09.63; 3, TJ Wright, She, 16:10.01; 4, Liam Chapin-Jones, SE, 16:20.01; 5, Daniel Stoiber, Cra, 16:23.81; 6, Reilly Bloomer, SE, 16:24.98; 7, Blake Spencer, NM, 16:25.70; 8, Ray Schireman, NM, 16:26.81; 9, Camden Stemple, SM, 16:30.15; 10, Benjamin Rodriguez, Ros, 16:32.10.
11, Caleb Diaz, NM, 16:35.22; 12, John Martinez, Cra, 16:36.67; 13, Cameron Martin, SE, 16:37.63; 14, Devyn Baldovino, NM, 16:44.17; 15, Trevor Merrifield, SE, 16:44.56; 16, Alex Johnston, She, 16:50.86; 17, Henry Fowler, She, 16:54.58; 18, Joey Rincon, NM, 16:55.17; 19, Ethan Cannon, SM, 16:56.25; 20, Caleb Baugher, Thu, 16:59.42; 21, Aaran Fagan, NM, 17:00.25; 22, Austin Sanders, Cra, 17:06.46; 23, Andrew McCullough, SE, 17:09.96; 24, Jackson Mestler, She, 17:10.73; 24, Ben Harter, She, 17:13.34.
TEAM SCORES — South Eugene 29, South Medford 66, Crater 74, Sheldon 83, North Medford 132, Thurston 144, Grants Pass 144, Roseburg 148.
TOP 25 INDIVIDUALS — 1,Sara Tsai, SE, 17:31.08; 2, Erin Clark, SE, 17:32.01; 3, Maggie Schmaedick, She, 17:34.06; 4, Gracie Todd, She, 18:40.74; 5, Phacelia Cramer, SE, 19:21.05; 6, Gracie Tostenson, Cra, 19:28.15; 7, Carmen Mejia, SM, 19:36.91; 8, Paige Nelson, Thu, 19:44.25; 9, Lela Stemple, SM, 19:49.17; 10, Natalie Mosman, SE, 20:08.80.
11, Genevieve Brandt, SE, 20:10.22; 12, Britney Wimberly, Cra, 20:10.69; 13, Jaycie Dickson, NM, 20:11.13; 14, Janina Zimmerman, Cra, 20:22.00; 15, Victoria Haynes, SM, 20:22.22; 16, Tristan Husted, SM, 20:36.91; 17, Charity Schmidt, GP, 20:43.65; 18, Jordan Monroe, Cra, 20:49.44; 19, Amy Watson, SM, 20:52.04; 20, Jessica Pettegrew-Sam, NM, 20:53.52; 21, Grace Pinckney, SE, 20:56.32; 22, Stefanee Tolner, SM, 20:59.67; 23, Stefani Ritter, SM, 21:07.04; 24, Kylee O'Connor, She, 21:10.66; 25, Aliyah Gallup, Thu, 21:25.43.
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