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Holland shatters state cross country record

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EUGENE — EJ Holland is nothing if not coachable.

His father, Neil, provided a tip when Holland was learning the craft of distance running, and the Ashland senior used it to his advantage while blowing away the field in the Class 5A cross country state championships Saturday at Lane Community College.

“I was terrible at keeping pace in middle school,” said Holland. “Throughout the race, I’d go really fast, then slow down, like a lot of kids. He told me, ‘10 quick steps, that’s all it takes to get back on pace. You get 10 quick steps, and all of a sudden you’re back on pace.’”

And what a pace it was.

With his father’s words of wisdom guiding him through trouble spots, Holland took advantage of ideal weather, a course made fast by the dry fall and inherent talent to crush the meet record for 5,000 meters.

Holland dropped his opponents with a time of 14 minutes, 30 seconds.

They didn’t know what hit them.

The time, which brought Holland a second straight cross country crown and, including track, his sixth state title overall, broke the standard of 14:33.8 set by Jeff Hess of South Eugene in 1978. Since then, the fastest had been Matthew Maton’s 14:45 for Summit in 2014.

Holland lowered his personal record by more than 21 seconds. His best had been 14:51.7, set in October at the Max King Invitational at the Jackson County Expo.

Holland’s excellence headlined a remarkable day for the Grizzly boys in general.

They placed three others in the top five — senior Arlo Davis third (15:12.4), junior Reed Pryor fourth (15.18.8) and junior Cameron Stein fifth (15:27.2) — and captured the school’s fourth title and first since 1993 with 41 points.

Crater, ranked second to Ashland throughout the season, lived up to its billing and was runner-up with 81 points.

“The beauty of it all was this week, they fired it up,” said Ashland coach Hans Voskes. “We knew that it was going to be a good day, but there’s still that concern that you have. But they all ran appropriately, they really did. I’m so proud of them.”

Holland set his sights on a big finish to his final season. He skipped a few meets to focus on workouts and trained hard through the regular season, electing not to taper for meets until this week.

He wanted to roll out a fit, strong model.

Holland’s goal leading up to the meet — although he kept it to himself — was to hit 14:30.

Bingo.

“I was really excited,” said Holland, who will sign a letter of intent with Oregon next week and was motivated on this day as the Ducks came out to watch him. “The less I raced before and the less of a season I had meant there’s more pressure to really show what I can do here and at regionals and nationals. This is the first step and shows I can go run a fast time on my own and push myself to that.”

He did so with a performance for the ages — or, at least since the state-meet distance was increased to 5K in 1975 from 2.5 miles.

The course this year underwent a makeover, changing marginally because a portion of private property was no longer available. The effects of the re-routing were deemed negligible by officials and runners alike.

“I’d say it’s about the same,” said Holland, adding that the course in general is on the difficult side.

But seeing good times earlier in the day in other classifications heartened him.

Through the first mile, Holland was a handful of seconds off the 4:40 pace he required. He picked it up, and left his last pursuer, Parkrose’s Ahmed Ibrahim, behind.

With a goal of 14:30, Holland had to be around 4:40 for each mile. He was 4:44 for the first mile and decided to pick up the pace. By the second mile, and remembering his dad’s coaching, he was at 9:20 and back on track.

If he felt his arms drop or his cadence change, he admonished himself.

“I thought, all right, let’s dial in,” said Holland. “It’s all me. Let’s really focus on not slowing down. I was just, like, dead focused.”

When he hit the stadium track, indicating 300 meters to go, it was time to “fly.”

He turned for the final stretch and read “14:20” on the finish-line clock.

“I was like, there we go, I got the job done,” said Holland, noting it was his last time wearing the Grizzly singlet. “Cross country at Ashland will always have a place in my heart. Coming down the home stretch, I realized this is my last time to do this. Let’s really soak it in.”

Ibrahim was second in 15:02.8.

Then came the Ashland wave.

Davis and Stein, who kept to himself the fact he was ill going into the race, each produced personal records. Vincent Senn, a sophomore, was the Grizzlies’ fifth counter, placing 30th in 16:39.9.

“Our plan was to go out there and execute, and I think we certainly did,” said Davis. “Our goal was four on the podium (top 10), and we did that. It was a fast race, much faster than I was anticipating.”

Two Crater runners joined the parade to the podium, with senior Gage Reed placing seventh in 15:45.6, and freshman Tyrone Gorze placing ninth in 15:53.9, both PRs.

The Comets had captured the previous three state championships.

Holland and others will compete at the Northwest regional meet in a couple weeks. Nationals will follow for the Ashland ace, and he believes there’s plenty left in his tank.

“I know that I’m still not really at my peak yet,” he said. “This is my first really hard effort in a race and really (tapering) for it. I think this is just the beginning.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAshland crossc country team with their state trophy in Eugene Saturday afternoon.
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