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Elliott leads another Crater onslaught

EUGENE — Josh Elliott would prefer not to be a marked man.

But as the Class 5A cross country defending champion, he had little choice.

"There was definitely more pressure than last year," said Elliott, who became a two-time winner on the big stage Saturday with a gutsy effort at Lane Community College.

"This year, I knew everyone was gunning for me," said the Comet senor. "I was pretty much the main target. It was just a lot of pressure. I really felt it in the last week. Last night, I could not sleep. I laid in bed for three hours just thinking about it."

He no doubt had sweet dreams Saturday night.

Elliott led another Crater entourage at state, pulling away in the final 300 meters to defeat Daniel Winn by four seconds. Elliott covered the 5,000 meters in 16 minutes, 3 seconds.

Not far behind were many of his teammates as the Comets won their fourth state championship in succession, tying them with Reedsport (1963) for second on the all-time boys list.

South Eugene holds the record of eight titles in row, the last in the string coming in 1979.

Crater scored 25 points, which is befitting of the No. 18-ranked boys team in the country. Ashland was second with 85 points.

Along with Elliott, the four other scoring Comets all were in the top 11: third, Kade Jensen (16:17); fifth, Jon Obeso (16:24); 10th, Max Runia (16:36); and 11th, Hunter Sanders (16:37).

Comets coach Justin Loftus doped out the meet and figured as many as 30 runners were contenders to be in top 10. But few of them were able to overtake Comets, who donned vibrant, almost fluorescent, orange jerseys that made them distinguishable from great distances.

The anticipated matchup of Elliott and Ashland's Wilder Schaaf didn't play out to the finish line. Schaaf, who defeated Elliott for the Southern Sky Conference championship a week earlier, battled illness this week and missed three days of training.

The Grizzly senior came in sixth in 16:28, one spot ahead of teammate Paul Schwarzer (16:33).

"I felt like I was back," said Schaaf, who practiced Thursday and Friday, "but I didn't have the energy I'm used to having in a race."

Crater's team plan was for everyone to stay with the lead pack through 1,000 meters, then pull away. That gained some separation, but the biggest move wasn't until Runia took off at the two-mile mark.

"I wasn't sure when to make my move," said the junior. "I came into today thinking I could win this as an individual. The team title, we all kind of figured we'd probably win just because we've been doing really good this year."

Runia's burst got everyone's attention, including Elliott's.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, he's going to win state,'" said Elliott. "Then it was like, I know I can go with him because I do it every day in practice."

Runia wasn't able to keep the pace to the end, however, opening the door for Elliott to take charge. The latter's own surge came with 500 meters to go and swallowed up the front-running Winn.

Winn felt like he had a better kick and was OK as long as Elliott didn't get too far ahead.

"Obviously, he pulled away," said Winn, a senior.

Elliott is regarded as a big-meet performer, and that held true.

"Definitely," he said. "I feed off the crowd. That helped push me that much faster."

Ultimately, Loftus wasn't surprised to see Elliott on the top step of the medals podium.

Again.

"Josh is tough," said the coach. "I'd never bet against him. He's got running ability like maybe no other runner I've had a Crater. It's something you can't really coach. There's something inside that pushes him. He's got that will."

And now he has another gold medal.

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

Halfway into the Class 5A race the lead pack was controlled by Crater's Josh Elliot (819), Max Runia (822), Jon Obeso (821) and Kade Jensen, along with Ashland's Wilder Schaaf (797).