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Chieftain girls garner state crown

EUGENE -- Rogue River's girls did it again Saturday.

The Chieftains won the Class 3A state cross country championship on the muddy Lane Community College 5,000-meter course.

It was the third verse of a record-equaling refrain, and this time it was done with feeling.

Led by the 3-4 finish of senior Jodi Minard and junior Selena Harman the Chiefs easily outdistanced Skyline Conference rival Hidden Valley, 56-145, to match strings of three straight crowns by Philomath (1984-86) and (1988-90) and Henley (1993-95).

Rogue River's boys took home a trophy for the fifth straight year, finishing fourth.

Moments after taking their place on the victory stand, the Chieftains rushed over to receive hugs and congratulations from friends and family. Then, following Harman's lead, one by one the Chiefs draped their medals around former coach Stan Goodell's neck.

Cross country may not be considered an emotional sport, but the irony of the moment wasn't lost on Rogue River's runners, its present coach Gary Anderson or its supporters.

I don't know how to say it better than that, Harman said. I knew we'd make it through. He got robbed, but we're strong. Goodell taught us well, even though he's not there every single day to kick us in the rear.

Goodell had a hand in Rogue River's program for a dozen years and propelled the program to the top of the heap in the 1990s. He was forced out of his position last spring, but the long-standing ties to the runners and the community weren't so easily severed.

Knowing that he had gone through all that made it a lot more worthwhile, said Harman. It gave us a reason to fight and made the cause so much more worthy.

It was a fitting finale for Minard, the Chiefs' lone senior, who last week struggled well off the pace and finished sixth in the Skyline district meet.

Minard surpassed her individual best, when she finished fourth two years ago, with a fluid 19-minute, 21-second effort. Coquille senior Amy Nickerson won for the third time in four years in 18:59, and The Dalles sophomore Mandy Fitz-Gustafson was second in 19:09.

I think a lot of time I put pressure on myself, Minard said. At district, I put pressure on myself because I expected too much. I don't work well under pressure.

She relieved the stress Saturday by simply forgetting about expectations.

I realized I didn't have anything to lose, Minard said. It's really a perfect way to go out. The single most important thing was winning the state championship. I'm hoping they can carry it on (for a record fourth title in 1999).

Teammates to follow Harman (19:25) were sophomore Bobbi Wright (19:56), who finished seventh, while freshmen Erin Gilkison (21:18) and Lauren Fety (21:21) applied the finishing touches on the victory, nailing down the 20th and 22nd scoring spots.

Wright was 11th last year, but moved into the top-10 slot with a strong finish.

Last year, it was like I was watching something happen, Wright said. This year, I feel like I'm part of it instead of being on the outskirts.

Anderson took the conservative route this year, following a familiar regimen.

They've run enough big races to know they didn't have to chase Nickerson -- even though they weren't far behind, said Anderson, who served as an assistant in the program for the previous eight years. Three-quarters to a mile in they started picking off runners. They were exceptionally focused. They go out and run twice a day -- some get up at 4:30 -- and not many teams have all their kids pulling for one another.

And just as emotion swept through the ranks, it hit the coach, too.

Stan is my mentor, Anderson said. I had coached eight years down in California and then got out of it. When my son was in the sixth grade, he told me he wanted to run. It came as a big shock. That's when I met Stan nine years ago. He's one of my best friends, and I have a lot of love for Stan. There's not one member of the team that wouldn't have Stan over for dinner any time. I'm not jealous at all about how the girls feel about Stan.

While the Chiefs were racing toward history, Hidden Valley recorded a red-letter day of its own.

The Mustangs made the best of their first appearance in the state meet, finishing second. Emily Steinert, Ginger Greiner and Alanna Steinert all finished in the top 20 as Skyline teams finished 1-2 for the second year in a row.

I told them they were definitely good enough to finish in the top four, said Hidden Valley coach Bob Julian Jr., and they had an opportunity for the championship if Rogue River faltered, which obviously didn't happen.

Emily Steinert said the effort was a breakthrough and perhaps the beginning of a run of success. Of Hidden Valley's seven entrants, only senior Jennifer Jacobson and Russian foreign exchange student Genya Krivosheeva won't return.

Rogue River's boys didn't get the top prize, but the Chiefs weren't complaining.

Junior Warren Clarida paced Rogue River with a 17:13 performance, good for sixth place behind winner Noel Paulson of Cascade. Brandon Padilla was 15th in 17:32. the time the 3A boys hit the trail in the fourth race of the day, the footing was anything but firm.

Even with spikes, you didn't have anything to push off on, Clarida said. It was a slow race with the cold and rain, but under the conditions, I felt I was doing well pace-wise.

Padilla has struggled in previous state meets and had trouble in the rain in last Saturday's Skyline meet. But he had a strong finish this time.

I'm notorious for being jinxed in state meets, but I'm happy about everything today, Padilla said.

Class 2A/1A -- St. Mary's Trevor Coolidge finished fourth in the Class 2A/1A boys race, hitting the chute in 17:15.

I ran very poorly in last year's state meet, Coolidge said. I got off to a bad start (and wound up 32nd). I was very pleased with my finish, but I'd like to build on it and whittle down my times.

St. Mary's girls finished sixth behind champion Canyonville Bible Academy/New Hope and individual winner Mary Anne Miller of Vernonia (20:33).

CBA registered as a cooperative team with New Hope of Grants Pass, but all the entrants Saturday were from CBA. The Pilots won a title when the state championship was put on by the Oregon Coaches Association in the 1970s but hadn't won since.

St. Mary's junior Martina Patella, the 1997 champion, finished 14th.

Patella, who was hampered with a back injury all season, was timed in 22:07.