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Minard proves size doesn't matter

In cross country, senior is among best in Oregon

ROGUE RIVER -- It wasn't too long ago that her coach was asked about the diminutive young girl tagging along behind a pack of Rogue River High distance runners.

A coach asked: `who's that little grade school runner?'

Rogue River High cross country coach Gary Anderson laughed. It took him a few seconds to collect himself and answer. She's on my team, he said, with a red face.

The opposing coach quickly found out who Jodi Minard was that day. Since then, he's learned how talented she is as a small distance runner who runs big for the Chieftains.

Minard, 17, is now a polished senior for the top-ranked Rogue River High girls cross country team. She still looks small, but she abounds with determination and the inward will to use her many talents and strength to run incredibly fast for 5,000 meters and overcome her lack of size.

You don't have to be big to do this sport, says Anderson. What you can't see is Jodi's big heart.

But when Minard attacks a cross country course with abandon from the start of the race, it becomes obvious there is something special inside her pumping furiously.

I usually start fast, she says. I get impatient standing around at the start. I just want to go, go, go.

Minard says thanks to the coaching and leadership of her distance coaches, Stan Goodell and Anderson, she has developed her running skills consistently in four years of high school.

Midway through her senior season, she has blossomed into one of the best female high school runners at any level in the state.

Case in point: Running against primarily Class 4A prep runners, Minard finished fourth in the girls Division I race at the State of Jefferson Invitational last Saturday at Lithia Park. She finished 5,000 meters in a time of 19:07.40.

It made me feel real good to do well against girls from big schools, says Minard. We run against a lot of 4A schools during the season so that we aren't intimidated by anybody when we get to the big meets, like state.

Ashland High sophomore Paris Edwards, who finished second in the Class 4A state finals as a freshman in 1997, was the only Southern Oregon runner to finish ahead of Minard.

Paris is really good, says Minard. She's faster than I am, but I feel I'm getting closer as I get more experience against tough competition.

Minard is going through a renaissance, or sorts, as a senior runner for the Chieftains.

She says she feels reborn as a runner. I'm refreshed and a lot stronger this year, she says. Last year, I had some injuries and I wasn't into it as much. I felt like I didn't have any energy.

This year, I'm full of energy, she says.

A traditionally fast starter in 5,000-meter girls races, Minard rarely backs off her fast pace.

Every race is a little different, she says. But I tend to get impatient early in races and I want to get going.

If I have the energy, I just want to keep going and going. I have it right now.

Despite her lack of size, Anderson says Minard is a fearless runner.

She won't be intimidated, says Anderson. I've never seen it happen. She's tough and she has a lot of confidence.

It started as a freshman. Anderson noticed Minard's incredible self-confidence during the entire season. It was highlighted at the state meet.

Here's this little freshman, says Anderson. She still looked like she was in grade school, or at least junior high. I was worried about her because she was so tiny among all those girls.

But she came up to me and said, `I'm going to be in the top 20.' She got 17th. That's when I became a believer.

After a disappointing track season for Rogue River last spring, Minard took some time away from running early in the summer to rest and reflect on what she wanted to do.

Then, she started training hard for cross country. The strategy has paid off with a personal-record time in the Pacific Northwest Invitational and a strong effort in the State of Jefferson Invitational.

Minard is starting to gear up for a run at the Skyline Conference title in two weeks, which she is expected to win.

I want to finish my senior year strong, but team goals are most important, she says. I'd like to finish in the top three at state, but if I don't and the team wins, I'll be happy.

Rogue River has become a prep cross country power in the 1990s. Even with their successes (two straight girls state titles and two boys team championships (1994 and '95), the Chieftains don't have many runners turn out for the sport.

This year is a good example. A total of seven girls turned out for girls cross country and 12 for the boys team. Nevertheless, both teams are ranked No. — in the 3A state polls.

If we were another sport, like football, we'd get parades and all kinds of recognition for winning state championships, says Minard. But we don't get the respect we deserve. We are taken for granted around here.

Despite the apparent lack of respect, the Chieftains thrive on their own success in cross country.

There's a tradition here, says Anderson. I think it goes back to Stan (Goodell) and what he has done for the program in the past. He cares about the kids so much and they have responded to him over the years.

Goodell resigned as a teacher and coach at the high school last spring. He has since taken a position as a teacher and cross country coach at Brighton Academy in Grants Pass.

The Brighton and Rogue River runners sometimes train together, says Anderson. We'll meet them at the park (Valley of the Rogue State Park), and run together. Stan still cares a lot about the runners he left behind here and he likes to be around them and encourage them.

We have a rule around here for the coaches, says Anderson. It's Stan's rule. The coaches have to get out and run with the runners during practice.

That breeds togetherness as a team, Minard says.

If I didn't like running, I don't think I would have done what I have as a runner, says Minard. I owe it all to those two coaches.

They've given the technique I need, and they have been at the races supporting me. I owe it all to them.

Rogue River's Jodi Minard, center in green, doesn't stand out in a crowd, but he's often the first to finish.