Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The southern Oregon contingent at the state cross country championships will be small compared to other years, and there isn't a gold-medal favorite in the bunch.
But that doesn't mean there will be a shortage of want-to.
"Anything can happen," said Cascade Christian coach Steve Williston, whose boys team is expected to challenge for a top-four place and a trophy Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene. "It's all on paper right now, and on paper, they all look good. But cross country is a funny animal because you run on different courses and in different conditions. It's not always apples to apples."
The championship meet begins at 10 a.m. with the Class 3A/2A/1A girls and ends with the 6A boys at 3 p.m.
The local teams with the best chances of winning trophies, in addition to the Cascade Christian boys, are the Class 4A Phoenix boys and girls and the Class 3A/2A/1A St. Mary's girls. All won their respective conference championships.
No 6A or 5A teams from the region qualified, but there are some individuals who rank in the top 10 in the state in their divisions.
North Medford's Ray Schireman is ranked sixth among 6A boys and Crater's Gracie Tostenson is ninth among 6A girls.
The highest-ranked individuals from southern Oregon are Cascade Christian's Stephanie Croy, who has the No. 3 3A/2A/1A girls time, and Phoenix's Nevina De Luca, who is No. 5 among 4A girls. For the Cascade Christian boys, Tim McPherson is seventh.
The St. Mary's girls captured their sixth district title in seven years as a precursor to state. They are led by Rachel Bennion, whose best time for 5,000 meters this season is 20 minutes, 3.6 seconds. Madeline Volk is slightly more than 30 seconds behind her.
The Crusader girls, who won consecutive state titles from 2007-09, placed fifth last year, well behind two-time winner — and the favorite again this year — Union.
But coach Joe Volk believes St. Mary's can give the Bobcats a run, even though they return all their competitors from last season, he said.
"In doping out their performance with ours over the last couple seasons," he said, "it's close. We've been tied, we've been ahead, we've been behind. We go through this every year where we won't see them until state. Our girls have pictures of the Union girls on their Facebook page. They're excited to go up there and give them a race."
Count Williston as one who won't be surprised if St. Mary's fares very well.
"St. Mary's is solid," he said. "They've got a lot of depth. They have a shot."
The senior Croy, who was fifth last year, is hoping for a shot herself against individual favorite Olivia Powell of Creswell. Powell won as a freshman two years ago, but dropped to third last year with a time almost a minute slower.
Powell again leads the state with a clocking of 18:22. Croy's best is 18:54.6.
The Challenger boys are a veteran bunch that placed fourth last year. They return their top four runners from that team.
Valley Catholic is the heavy favorite, said Williston, but Cascade Christian should be in the mix with contenders Creswell, East Linn Christian and Southwest Christian.
"Outside of Valley Catholic, we've done pretty well against most of the teams ahead of us," said Williston. "Anywhere from second to fourth is possible if the kids go out and have a good day."
McPherson has been the Challengers' No. 1 most of the year and has a best of 16:16.5. Tristan Akery, who claimed the district title last week, has run 16:47.6. Both are juniors.
Phoenix's girls dope out to the third-best team going in, and they have two top-10 runners in school record-holder De Luca (18:31), a junior, and freshman Danielle Jantzer (19:16.6).
The Pirate boys are rated fifth going in, and their top entrant, junior Randy Mena (16:32), has the state's 21st best time.
"The first priority of any school," said Phoenix coach John Cornett, "is to secure the spot they're in, then try to move up."
The girls will try to "reel in" No. 2 Philomath, he said, but top-rated Molalla will be tough to catch.
The strategy for the girls will be to get De Luca and Jantzer among the top six or seven, said Cornett, and have the next three Pirates stay in a bunch and move up together.
The Phoenix boys, however, don't have a front-runner, so the entire team will try to run as a pack and overtake opponents en masse.
In the 6A boys, Schireman placed fourth in the tough Southwest Conference district meet, but the senior has been among the state leaders all year. He owns the school record of 15:28.2 and will try to improve on last year's seventh place. Crater senior Austin Sanders also made the field. He was sixth at district with a season-best 15:49.
In the girls meet, Crater has two entries. The senior Tostenson has a best of 18:19.5, and Britney Wimberly has done 19:15.
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