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Crater's girls cross-country team stunned the field in 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories looking at notable teams and individuals from the Rogue Valley’s past.

The signs were there. It appeared the Crater girls cross-country team, circa 2007, just might be able to fulfill the promise of a noteworthy season.

The Comets had veteran leadership.

They showed gradual improvement, beginning with informal summer runs when they narrowed the gap on the school’s celebrated boys team.

The girls even maneuvered to No. 1 in the state rankings with a perfect 15 points in the Southern Sky Conference meet, a precursor to the prep championships at Lane Community College in Eugene.

But, to expect this, a performance for the ages not attained in the first 59 years of boys and girls state competition, was imponderable.

Crater went to state that year hoping to crack the top four and earn a trophy, reflects Justin Loftus, who was, and still is, the girls and boys coach.

“We honestly had no idea how good we could be,” he says. “Going into state, Summit and Crescent Valley, the normal 5A schools, were the teams to beat. We were hoping for a top-four finish. Anything can pencil out if you have a good day. It was definitely a special day because things just fell together at the right moment.”

He had his usual clear view of the finish line. A Crook County girl, Michelle Foley, crossed first. Then it was a Comet, and another Comet, and another.

Loftus’ first five girls were among the top eight. Foley and her fifth-place sister, Kellie, didn’t count in the team standings because Crook County didn’t field enough runners.

That meant Crater scored 16 points, an unfathomable tally against that large of a talented field and on that grand of a stage.

Unaware that the Foleys ran as individuals, neither Loftus nor his runners knew how low they went. In a video shortly after the finish, the Comets — in order, Kayleigh Tyerman, Riley Swanson, Silver Seibert, Arianne Lafierre and Laurie Stoutenbrugh — are shown adding up their finishing numbers to determine they scored 23 points.

“We didn’t realize,” says Tyerman, whose last name is now Tobias and who teaches elementary school in the Portland area, “that if the athlete wasn’t attached to a team, that their place didn’t necessarily count.”

The 16 points was lower than any team had scored at any level, bettering the Bend girls’ 20 in winning the 1992 Class 4A title. The first girls state meet was in 1974.

The boys began competing in 1949, and the lowest point total before 2007 was Central Catholic’s 23 in 2005. Summit dropped the boys record to 19 in 2014.

Perhaps as stunning as the Comets’ score was who achieved it.

The Crater girls were not among the dominant programs. There wasn’t a state title on their resume.

Crater’s boys, for instance, won eight championships between 2006 and ‘18.

When Bend’s girls got as low as 20 points, they were in the midst of six straight crowns.

Summit’s girls have become the gold standard and did eventually match Crater’s record, in 2011, then topped it with 15 points in 2017. The Storm has won every state meet, 12 in all, in the aftermath of the Comets’ victory.

Knowing what he does now of the girls on that team, Loftus says the achievement isn’t as mind boggling as it once seemed.

Not only did his first five girls go on to run in college, but so did the other two Comets in that race, Anya Martinez and Emily Olson.

“With that crew,” says Loftus, “after the fact, just watching them through the years it was definitely in their wheelhouse. I had full faith in all of them. It just came together.”

The fall season for them actually began in the summer.

Loftus invited his teams to his Ashland home each Sunday. They went on long runs that began with a 20-minute “warmup” toward Mount Ashland. The first 12 minutes were a climb.

“That was the first time I was doing runs that long,” says Tyerman. “Very hilly. Straight uphill.”

Tyerman later ran for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Florida State, where her cross-country teams were fourth at the NCAAs in her junior and senior seasons, and she coached for one year while teaching in San Antonio, Texas.

“Looking back,” says Tyerman, “I’m so impressed with how much time Loftus spent with all of us, inviting us all to his home on the weekends to run so many miles every Sunday.”

When they finished, the kids played cards, drank orange smoothies and generally bonded.

During those runs, Loftus saw his girls step it up more than any team he’d had.

“They were starting to close the gap with the guys,” he says.

The Crater boys were no slouches. Having won state in 2006, they would go unbeaten despite competing in high-powered meets and were ranked fifth nationally before repeating as 5A champions in 2007.

The girls were not envious of the boys’ success or attention, says Tyerman.

“Maybe we could have viewed it that way,” she says, “but ultimately everybody was really supportive. It wasn’t about one team being overshadowed by the other.”

There was, however, another team that did provide motivation for the Comet girls.

In 2006, Crater beat out Ashland for the Southern Sky title, but the Grizzlies, coached by Bob Julian Jr., shined at state, winning the championship as Crater came in fourth.

Loftus and Julian are both Ashland products. The former was on the Grizzlies’ 1988 state title team, coached by Bob Julian Sr. and led by another of his sons, Pete.

Like Crater, Ashland had several girls with state experience returning in 2007.

“Bob and I have been friends forever,” says Loftus. “As far as competition, we’re always trying to outdo one another.”

Crater certainly got the upper hand this time around. At the district meet, hosted by Crater at the Jackson County Expo, Loftus sent his Nos. 6 and 7 girls to the front of the pack, while the likes of Swanson and Tyerman held back a bit.

Other top runners would likely follow his best, says Loftus, so a strategy switch might mess with their plans.

“We planned out those races pretty well beforehand,” he says. “We had an idea of what other teams were going to do. We were in really good shape and focused, and when they believe everything you tell them, it comes together pretty well.”

Such as a perfect score.

Swanson paced the Comets, winning her second straight conference title with a time of 19 minutes, 23 seconds over the 5,000-meter course. Tyerman was 5 seconds behind her in second place.

Ashland was second with 51 points.

Winning district guaranteed nothing, as the Comets learned the previous year. That elusive state championship was still to be had.

At state, the boys were expected to win, the girls were to be in the mix. If both teams triumphed, it would be the second time a Southern Oregon school claimed both titles in the same year. Rogue River did it in 1991.

Going in, Tyerman, a junior, had the fourth-best time in the state, Swanson the fifth.

“We had a great group of girls,” says Tyerman. “I remember specifically, Riley was a year older than me and she was someone who really pushed me to grow.”

At state, they were shoulder to shoulder, along with Seibert, around the course.

Loftus plays a video for his teams each year from that race. The announcer called out the leaders at the 2-mile mark, says Loftus, first identifying Michelle Foley, then, “... and there’s Crater’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.”

“It was really just kind of our little island for a good bit of the race,” says Tyerman. “That was a fun way to run it.”

Foley won in 18:58. Then came Tyerman (19:11), Swanson (19:12) and Seibert (19:13). Lafierre was sixth in 19:20, and Stoutenburgh was eighth in 19:26.

To have the first five runners within 15 seconds of each other at state, says Loftus, was remarkable.

The only thing that kept the Comets from a perfect score was Crescent Valley’s Ameila Yeager, who leaned at the finish to nip Stoutenburgh for seventh place. They were so close, they had the same time.

Crescent Valley was second with 50 points and Summit third with 78. Ashland placed fifth.

Swanson would go on to run for Northwest Christian in Eugene, Seibert for Southern Oregon, Stoutenburgh and Martinez for Southern Oregon and Morehead State, Lafierre for Eastern Oregon and Olson for Oregon State.

“That whole season was really kind of a major shift for all of us,” says Tyerman. “I guess for myself as well. We just had a really great team. We had a lot of seniors that year who went on to run in college. Everyone was just really dedicated.”

And it showed in a performance for the ages.

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

Four of Crater's five scoring runners are grouped as they near the 2-mile mark in the 2007 cross-country state championships at Lane Community College in Eugene. From right to left: Riley Swanson (301), Laurie Stoutenburgh (300), Kayleigh Tyerman (302) and Silver Seibert (299). (Mail Tribune file photo)