GRANTS PASS — Those looking for a wild finish between the state's two fastest boy cross country runners knew in short order it wasn't to be.

GRANTS PASS — Those looking for a wild finish between the state's two fastest boy cross country runners knew in short order it wasn't to be.

Matthew Melancon of Sheldon, the state leader in all classifications, took off like a balloon in a wind gust and disappeared from sight just minutes after the Southwest Conference district race began Saturday at North Middle School.

In a stunning performance that left onlookers wondering if the ambitious pace was too rigorous to maintain, Melancon did just that, gradually increasing his lead over Crater's Max Runia and the rest of the pack well into the 5,000-meter run.

Melancon and Runia are 1-2 in the state rankings, but they had different agendas over a slow, muddy course.

Melancon's was to just run, and he did, winning in 16 minutes, 30 seconds, well ahead of runner-up Jon Obeso of Crater, whose time was 16:58. Runia placed sixth.

"I just wanted to have space in front of me and behind me," said the senior Melancon, "so I didn't get tripped up or anything. It just so happened I was in front. There was a point pretty early where I said, oh well, I might as well keep running."

The Comets' contingent let him. It was intent on getting through the race in good shape, placing emphasis instead on next Saturday's state meet at Lane Community College in Eugene.

Crater, which captured four Class 5A state championships before moving up to 6A this fall, simply wasn't interested in challenging Melancon.

"Who knows how they would have hung with him, but I think there are at least two guys on our team that could have gone," said Crater coach Justin Loftus. "It gives us a little fire for next week. All I heard everywhere was he's so fast and he's got a 40-second lead."

He added that Runia and Obeso ran close to Melancon in a meet a couple weeks prior.

"I'm not worried about it and I don't think our kids are, either," said the coach.

The team focus paid off, as Crater easily triumphed. Its top five runners placed among the first 14, giving the Comets 38 points. South Eugene was second with 74.

On the girls side, South Eugene runners placed 1-2, and the Axemen captured the team crown with 39 points.

Crater, led by third-place Damaris Remigio, was runner-up with 49 points.

The top two teams and the top four individuals not on those teams qualified for state.

In the boys race, Melancon opened a 20-yard lead only 600 yards into the race. He was half a football field in front a couple minutes into the race.

The gap didn't close thereafter.

"There's always that doubt," he said. "Can I hold this? It's just a matter of pushing through it."

Melancon's state-leading time is 15:10.6, about 21/2 seconds ahead of Runia.

Neither put much stock in this matchup.

"I'll be honest, I didn't want to kill myself today," said Runia. "We were doing what we had to do to qualify for state, and that was it. I guess that sounds bad, but that's the way it was."

Melancon's strategy to go out and snatch the race was sound, said Runia, given the Irish runner couldn't bank on his team making state.

Obeso ran second most of the race. Halfway in, he realized he couldn't catch Melancon. His goal then was not to lose ground.

"That was hard, too, because mentally you're going, oh no, they're gonna catch me," said Obeso, a junior.

Hunter Sanders of Crater finished fourth in 17:10, and South Medford's Ryan Perry nabbed a state berth, placing fifth in 17:10.

In the girls race, South Eugene's Paige Kouba and Erin Clark ran in front from the start, Kouba winning in 19:50 and Clark a second behind her.

Remigio stayed with them as long as she could, ultimately falling back in the final mile.

"There was a point right there where, it was, you have to get them, you have to go for it," said Remigio, whose time was 19:53. "You've worked so hard, you have to at least try to get them. I gave it a little surge, but they went faster. There were two of them and one of me, so I just tried to finish strong and not kill myself."

Others to qualify for state were Lauren Morgan of South Medford, who was fourth in 20:20, and North Medford's Brenna Phelps, seventh in 20:26.

BOYS

TEAM SCORES — Crater 38, South Eugene 74, Sheldon 78, North Medford 100, South Medford 113, Roseburg 123, Thurston 189, Grants Pass 194.

TOP 25 — 1, Matthew Melancon, S, 16:30; 2, Jon Obeso, C, 16:58; 3, Kyle Ruhlin, T, 17:08; 4, Hunter Sanders, C, 17:10; 5, Ryan Perry, SM, 17:10; 6, Max Runia, C, 17:11; 7, Jackson Darland, S, 17:12; 8, Devyn Baldovino, NM, 17:13; 9, Alex Mauro, SE, 17:16; 10, Stetson Smith, NM, 17:18.

11, Joe Holvey, SE, 17:21; 12, Neil Seibert, C, 17:27; 13, Jack Wilson, SE, 17:40; 14, Daniel Stober, C, 17:40; 15, Ben Harter, S, 17:46; 16, John Talik, R, 17:48; 17, Alex Johnston, S, 17:48; 18, Piers Rasmussen, C, 17:49; 19, Niko Tutland, SM, 17:49; 20, Cameron Martin, SE, 17:49; 21, Kevin Chang, SE, 17:50; 22, Kenny Freeman, R, 17:51; 23, Blake Spencer, NM, 17:52; 24, Jonathan Hokanson, NM, 17:52; 25, Mario Gaddini, SE, 17:53.

GIRLS

TEAM SCORES — South Eugene 39, Crater 49, Sheldon 67, South Medford 89, North Medford 98, Grants Pass 180, Roseburg 209, Thurston 211.

TOP 25 — 1, Paige Kouba, SE, 19:50; 2, Erin Clark, SE, 19:51; 3, Damaris Remigio, C, 19:53; 4, Lauren Morgan, SM, 20:20; 5, Maggie Schmaedick, S, 20:21; 6, Kelsi Klotter, S, 20:26; 7, Brenna Phelps, NM, 20:26; 8, Jessica Vig, C, 20:38; 9, Nora Wilson, SE, 20:39; 10, Louise Mulvey, S, 20:39.

11, Sarah Hastings, C, 20:40; 12, Natalie Mosman, SE, 20:40; 13, Gracie Tostenson, C, 20:42; 14, Britney Wimberly, C, 20:43; 15, Amelia Helmick, SE, 20:53; 16, Alia Mowery, SE, 20:53; 17, Meredith Bothman, S, 21:06; 18, Carmen Mejia, SM, 21:08; 19, Alex Ebert, NM, 21:10; 20, Blair Shanklin, SM, 21:13; 21, Jennifer Zhu, NM, 21:17; 22, Macie Gale, T, 21:18; 23, Stefanee Tolner, SM, 21:19; 24, Stefani Ritter, SM, 21:26; 25, Kylie Biondi, NM, 21:37.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com