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Crowning glory

EUGENE — Andy Monroe wasn’t the only person who benefited from his romp to the Class 5A cross country state championship.

Sure, the Crater junior got a medal to wear around his neck, the satisfaction of winning the state’s biggest race by 26 seconds and leading the Comets to the team crown, the adulation of a mass of running fans and enough backslaps to raise welts.

But one of his Comet teammates presumably got something, too.

A date.

Asked his motivation for running a time of 15 minutes, 20 seconds over the 5,000-meter course at Lane Community College on Saturday despite a pesky, nonstop rain, Monroe said he made a wager with a teammate.

“This is kind of funny, actually,” said Monroe, wrapped in a shiny space blanket to keep warm and ward off the raindrops. “He was like, if you run under 15:25, I’ll ask this girl on a date. So I was like, let’s shoot for 15:25.”

Dinner and a movie?

For his part, Monroe continued a steady ascension in the running ranks, improving on his third-place finish of a year ago — when teammate Walter Vail won — and adding to the 1,500 and 3,000 state titles he won last spring in track.

In the process, he helped the Comets avenge a runner-up team finish a year ago when it appeared they had the title won until the final 200 yards.

This wasn’t a runaway, either, but it surely was gratifying.

“We have been working for the state championship for 365 days, ever since we found out we were second last year,” said Crater junior Derek Tripp, who placed third Saturday in 15:51, one of five Comets in the top 13. “We’ve been working our butts off just to get to be state champions.”

Paced by Monroe and Tripp, Crater scored 34 points to Summit’s 42. Ashland turned in a strong effort with 109 points to place third, led by freshman EJ Holland in fifth place.

The championship was Crater’s first since it ended a string of five in a row in 2010.

Other Crater scorers were Griff Hokanson (seventh, 16:00), Erik Olsen (12th, 16:07) and Jantz Tostenson (13th, 16:13).

Monroe entered the meet with a season-best time of 15:15.5, the best in 5A by 22 seconds, and he did nothing to tarnish his top-dog status.

In fact, he enhanced it. Only four others, regardless of classification, have run faster times on the course.

“He was going to bring it today,” said Crater coach Justin Loftus. “We knew he was going to push things.

“He’s starting to find himself and find out what he can do, really get some confidence, and that’s fun to watch.”

Monroe dallied with the lead pack for all of 600 meters before taking over the race “and just never looking back.”

The weather didn’t bother him. He prefers about 55 degrees and rain. Throw in a little mud, and it’s “true cross country,” he said. “… It’s my favorite atmosphere.”

Given the football-field gap between him and the others, who could argue?

Running by himself wasn’t difficult, said Monroe. It alleviated the pressure of having someone breathing down his neck and provided cushion in the event his pace waned.

After two miles, he admitted to feeling discomfort.

“It started to get me,” he said, “but every step I took, it was like, it’s one step under a mile that you have left, so try to kick it into gear.”

The course ends in the school stadium, which is surrounded by a track. When Monroe reached it, signifying 300 meters remained, he was just this side of euphoric.

“I just wanted to give it everything I had,” he said of what went through his mind. “This is happening. I’ve dreamed about this since seventh grade, coming up to watch my other teammates run state. I wanted to be here someday, and to have it all happen, I’m speechless.”

When Monroe took off early in the race, it was up to his teammates to contend with their counterparts from Summit — which had four of the top nine finishers, including runner-up Niklas Sjogren.

Tripp and Co. monitored their actions. When the Storm crew made a move, the Comets followed.

“We, of course, had to go with them because we just couldn’t get behind them,” said Tripp. “It was just a tough race, and we hammered through it. I think we did a lot together as a team.”

Hokanson, in particular, rose to the occasion. The senior placed 32nd in 2015, but he was in fourth place when he entered the stadium Saturday, and fell back only slightly.

“He made a huge progression,” said Loftus, “and everybody else was right where they had to be.”

For Ashland, Holland showed quite well in his first taste of state with a 15:57 clocking. Teammate Jorge Sierra-Oldham came in 10th in 16:05.

In the 5A girls race, Crater placed fifth with 135 points, and Ashland was 12th.

The Comets’ Ariana Marks was the top local finisher, taking 22nd in 20:04.

Summit’s Olivia Brooks won her third straight individual title with a time of 17:43. The Storm had the top three placers in winning their ninth straight crown.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Crater's Derek Tripp (#858) keeps his balance at the bottom of a hill ahead of Ashland's EJ Holland (#839) and teamates Griff Hokanson (#853) and Erik Olsen on Saturday. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON
Crater's Andy Monroe crosses the finish line en route to winning the Class 5A state championship on Saturday in Eugene. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON