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District runners may focus on tactical approach

There's more to cross country running than meets the eye.

It obviously takes speed and endurance to compete, but there is much more involved in the moments leading up to each race and shortly thereafter. That's when the chess match begins. Wheels start turning and game plans and tactical moves are almost as interesting as the athleticism on display.

With district meets set for this week, most of the intrigue will be on how runners attack their respective 5-kilometer courses. Do you go all out in hopes of being crowned a district champion, or do you save a little and not show all your cards in hopes of increasing your chance at the Nov. 7 state championships?

For teams like Crater and Ashland at the Class 5A level, it would be a huge upset if both didn't advance to the state meet. Not to be disrespectful, but Saturday's district meet at the Steen Sports Complex in Klamath Falls isn't exactly the priority for the Comets and Grizzlies, who boast two of the top boys and girls programs in the state.

The top two teams at the district meet and the next four individuals in all classes advance to state at Lane Community College in Eugene.

"I think Bob's kinda taking the same approach I am," says Crater coach Justin Loftus of Ashland coach Bob Julian Jr. "We want to go out and try to win, but it could be kinda nasty over there this weekend, so coming away healthy and ready for the state meet is the most important thing."

Crater's boys team already boasts the defending 5A champion in senior Josh Elliott and is ranked 16th in the nation in the most recent DyeStat Elite/ESPN Rise Fab 50 rankings. The only other Oregon teams to get a mention are the Central Catholic boys (36th) and Jesuit girls (sixth).

"We definitely have a solid team this year, so hopefully we can come through the next couple weeks without injury or illness," says Loftus.

The Comets are well-balanced thanks to the efforts of junior Max Runia, senior Kade Jensen, sophomores Jon Obeso and Neil Seibert and senior Tony Barrett. All have season-best times that rank among the top 30 at the 5A level, with Elliott taking the third-best time of 15 minutes, 44 seconds into Saturday's race.

"I think his focus is really on taking this team to the next level," Loftus says of Elliott. "That's definitely maturing for him, not that he didn't care about the team before, but he had his goals set more on individual state championships and that kind of stuff."

Saturday's race will certainly be interesting for Elliott, who has yet to turn in a time this year equal to chief rival Wilder Schaaf of Ashland.

"Wilder's tough. I don't know that we need to give it all out to him this week," says Loftus, noting that Elliott wasn't the district champ last year and that certainly didn't adversely affect him.

The senior Wilder has clocked 15:27.5 already this fall and, along with teammates Paul Schwarzer, Colin Haug, Cord Walsh and Sam Jackson, expects to make things challenging for the Comets to maintain their SSC and state strongholds.

"I think the competition between us and Ashland is going to be pretty fierce," Loftus says of the boys and girls teams.

That competition will more likely be fiercest a week later at state, but one never knows.

Ashland sophomore Mia O'Dougherty has the sixth-best time among 5A runners (19:06) and is joined by senior Camelia Mayfield and sophomore Marshall Miller in leading the Grizzlies. However, Crater's top runners, Damaris Remigio, Jessica Vig, Jasmyn Andrews and Amanda Dalton, are just as capable.

The SSC girls district championship likely could come down to the wire.

"It could change within a couple runners, easily," says Loftus, whose boys and girls teams have won every district title since the SSC's formation in 2006.

The Southwest Conference district meet could mimic the one in Klamath Falls, with defending 6A state champion Drew Jordan of North Medford having to weigh his options against top rival Matthew Melancon of Sheldon. Melancon's best time of 15:41 is five seconds ahead of Jordan's season best.

Jordan faced a similar setup last year against South Eugene's Sammy Kirtner and played a game of cat-and-mouse with his foe before finally dispatching him in the district and state meets.

"It's both an opportunity and a blessing when you face a kid two weeks in a row, which is essentially what Drew will be doing," says North Medford coach Piet Voskes. "You just have to pick your battles and decide which one is more valuable."

Read into that what you will, but Jordan's main focus likely will be on helping get the Black Tornado boys team up to state. North Medford, Sheldon and Roseburg expect to contend for one of the two team berths during Saturday at Stewart Park in Roseburg.

Fans looking for a flat-out race may find themselves more intrigued by the SWC girls event, where South Medford's Lauren Morgan and North Medford's Brenna Phelps are joined by Sheldon's Maggie Schmaedick and South Eugene's Paige Kouba as title contenders. Their top times have fallen within six seconds of one another, with the freshman Schmaedick carrying the best mark into the weekend at 19:22.

The district title may also mean more considering how tight the SWC girls team competition expects to be.

"At this point of year you throw time out of the door," adds Voskes. "It's not really a barometer of things other than if it's a fast course you ran on. I think any of those girls on any given day can win it."

The district meets will be kick-started Thursday when Cascade Christian and St. Mary's lock horns with a handful of others at Valley of the Rogue State Park in Rogue River. The Crusaders' girls boast three of the state's best in Mary Bennion, Morgan Martin and Kira Heycke, while the Cascade Christian boys are led by Hudson Eustace.

In other 3A/2A/1A action, Rogue River's Cole Watson already owns the top time at his level and will take a necessary step toward a run at the state title when his district takes place Saturday in Bandon.

The Skyline Conference district meet is the only other local one, with action at Bear Creek Park on Saturday.

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NORTH MEDFORD AND EAGLE POINT high school volleyball teams will host Breast Cancer Awareness Night during tonight's matches.

North Medford will solicit donations during its 7 p.m. match with South Medford, and contributors will be entered into a raffle for several prizes. All donations will remain in the area.

Eagle Point will be accepting donations at its 7 p.m. match against Crater. Donations can be made at the match or online at eaglepointvb.com. Eagle Point will also donate $1 from each paid admission to support the Side-Out Foundation, a national organization that supports breast cancer research.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com