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SOC meet boasts top national runners

There shouldn't be much mystery surrounding individual and team winners at Saturday's Southern Oregon Conference district cross country meet at Lithia Park.

The real question is, who will emerge with second place in the team races and earn a trip to the Nov. 6 Class 4A state meet at Lane Community College in Eugene.

Two of the nation's finest boy and girl prep runners -- Klamath Union senior Ian Dobson and Ashland junior Paris Edwards -- will go through their paces obscured by the rocks, trees and fall foliage in and around the canyon carved out by Ashland Creek. all indications, they should be clear winners at the end of the 5,000-meter course.

Klamath Union's boys and Ashland's girls should be just as dominant. But after that, it's a tossup between Ashland and South's boys and Crater, Klamath Union and South Medford's girls for a trip to state.

Few could match strides for long with Dobson in the state or, for that matter, the country as he goes for his second straight SOC crown.

Harrier Magazine lists the defending state champion No. 2 nationally among high school runners.

He placed seventh in last year's Foot Locker Nationals in Florida then won the 2,000 steeplechase in a national prep meet last June in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. On Oct. 2, the 6-foot-2, 145-pound, 17-year-old outran a field 300 runners at the Stanford Invitational.

But Dobson's worth is measured by more than just wins and record performances, says Klamath Union coach Marnie Mason-Johnson.

Ian is so humble that he's willing to share his success with the other boys, Mason-Johnson says. It carries over even to the junior varsity.

Significantly, Dobson has yet to eclipse Tracy Garrison's 1983 school record 3,000 mark of 8:17.1. But whereas Garrison neither improved on the mark set his junior season nor lived up to his potential at the University of Oregon, Dobson's best likely is yet to come.

Tracy had far more raw talent, but Ian is by far and away more disciplined, Mason-Johnson says. He has a better work ethic and is more focused on what he wants. Nothing goes by him on a daily basis to where he's not focused on attaining his goals.

Mason-Johnson, who was a year behind Garrison, recalls the former Klamath star turning out some prodigious performances in the regional and national races, such as times of 15:01 and 15:04 for 5,000 meters.

There might have even been a race he went under 15, she says.

Dobson, on the other hand, is virtually untapped, says Mason-Johnson.

That's by design.

Mason-Johnson put Dobson through major weeks, when he ran more than 50 miles, during the summer to help prepare him for college. But when the prep season neared, the mileage was trimmed to the low 40s.

We've capped his mileage and focused on keeping injury-free, says the coach. I want him to go on to college and run tough at the collegiate level. But really his goals are past the collegiate level, to go on to do bigger and better things.

To date, Dobson has visited Stanford, Wisconsin and Oregon.

So even though he'll cruise comfortably ahead of the SOC competition Saturday, the 15:51.5 course record set by South Eugene's Erik Heinonen on Oct. 9 in the State of Jefferson Invitational won't be a major concern.

It will be the icing on the cake, says Mason-Johnson, if he breaks the course record.

The list of three-time SOC girls champions will grow to five Saturday as Edwards gears up for what has proven to be an elusive state title.

Edwards was state runner-up two years ago and third last November. She was third again in the last May's state track 1,500.

Those disappointing setbacks coupled with competition against some of the country's best middle-distance runners in the Golden West Invitational last June in Sacramento, Calif., spurred her to be more determined and train more aggressively.

I had two really successful seasons that didn't end as well as I would've liked them to, Edwards says. Last year, I was tired and just didn't have the confidence.

In search of a remedy, she attended a USA Track and Field camp in Chula Vista, Calif., last summer that gave her a clear vision of where she was running.

I learned a lot of the intricacies of the sport, and it helped me know I could achieve the goals I set.

This fall, she's dominated her competition. No one has come closer than a minute.

That's just the way it's going to be, Edwards says. I've matured enough to know that I'm going to have to push myself. It's me against the clock or me against an invisible opponent.

Actually, I don't mind running on my own. A lot of my workouts are that way.

Ashland's girls haven't been to the state meet since 1994, when they last won a district championship.

The have a solid seven in Anita Sindelar, the 1996 district champion; Jessica Stowell, Kelly Bishop, Gretchen Buettner, Drew Larson and Abby Turner.

It's been a real uplifting season, Edwards says, to know that everyone has such high goals and we're all having good seasons.