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Holland sixth in national XC meet

PORTLAND — Ashland’s EJ Holland overcame a poor start to place sixth in the Nike Cross Nationals Saturday at Glendoveer Golf Course, emerging as a first-team All-American in one of the deepest fields in the history of the event.

The high school cross country national championships attracted 204 runners from eight regional qualifying meets across the country.

Holland, the two-time Northwest Regional champion, worked his way up to the top five for much of the race and finished with a time of 15 minutes, 9.6 seconds over a wet, muddy, 5,000-meter grass course that saw a number of runners slip as they negotiated turns.

Nico Young, of California, put together the most dominant race in the meet’s 15-year history, leading from start to finish and winning in a record 14:52.3. He opened a 10-meter lead early and continued to expand it despite the strength of his competitors, improving on his fourth-place of a year ago.

Josh Methner was second in 15:06.1.

The third through seventh finishers were within 2 seconds of each other.

The top seven earned first-team All-American recognition. There were also second and third teams.

“I hoped for better, I’m not going to lie,” said Holland. “I wanted better. But I can take away a lot from the race and learn a lot. There were a lot of positives. Finishing sixth in the whole country is great.”

Holland, a senior at Ashland High, placed 16th last year.

The national championships represent Holland’s only two losses in his junior and senior cross country seasons.

The University of Oregon signee competed as one of 50 individuals. There were also 22 teams of seven runners each.

Holland had trouble getting his feet under him on the slippery surface when the starter’s gun sounded.

“I had a bad start, and that was my bad,” he said. “Maybe a little unlucky, also. It’s something I know I need to improve I’ve had a bad start forever; I’ve never been a good starter.”

It’s rarely hindered him, but in a classy field such as at nationals, it proved a problem.

He was in about 70th place only 400 meters into the race, he said, and had to exert energy to “get back up to the place where I should have started at.”

Young was already well ahead, if not quite out of reach.

“He certainly didn’t give me much time to adjust and refocus,” said Holland. “I had a guy who is well capable of handling a really fast pace. I respect Nico a ton. He’s a great runner and he already has a 50-meter advantage on the rest of the field by the time I even get up there.

“All the extra effort of trying to get up to the lead pack just kind of took it out of my legs. I tried really hard, but I just wasn’t able to get up there. I’m really happy with how I finished and really happy with the effort I put in.”

At regionals three weeks ago in Boise, Idaho, Holland set a meet record of 15:02.9.

He completed his Oregon prep career a week before that by defending his Class 5A state championship with a meet record of 14:30 at Lane Community College in Eugene.

According to the running website letsrun.com, as the future plays out, this field could rival some of the best ever, primarily because of the presence of Young and Cole Sprout — who came in one place and a half second behind Holland.

Young and Sprout each broke a fabled 3,200-meter record at the Arcadia Invitational track meet last spring, and this fall, Methner took down a 47-year cross country course record held by former world champion Craig Virgin.

The website, using a speed ratings index designed by Bill Meylan, called it the fastest field in the history of nationals.

Young, from California, ran the fastest high school 3-mile cross country race in history, 13:39, in September.

Sprout, from Colorado, turned in one of the fastest 5Ks in history this fall with a 14:16. He placed third at nationals a year ago.

In the girls race, Katelyn Tuohy, of New York, won a record third straight title in 17:18.4, edging Taylor Ewert, of Ohio, who clocked 17:19.1.

BOYS TOP 10 INDIVIDUALS: 1, Nico Young, 14:52.3; 2, Josh Methner, 15:06.1; 3, Caleb Brown, 15:08.3; 4, Matt Strangio, 15:08.8; 5, Connor Ohlson, 15:09.0; 6, EJ Holland, 15:09.6; 7, Cole Sprout, 15:10.1; 8, Liam Murphy, 15:12.0; Carson Belknap, 15:13.4; 10, Wil Smith, 15:15.9.

Ashland's EJ Holland (213) maneuvers over a wet, muddy course at Glendoveer Golf Course.