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Gorze, Comets set sights on hardware at state meet

For two years, the Crater cross-country team has been waiting for another shot at the Class 5A state meet.

Having a 2020 season pushed back all the way to the spring and no designated state meet caused some patience to be tested. But with their No. 1 runner in full flight after a dominant performance the last time he stepped onto a course, the Comets heading to Eugene this weekend looking to do some damage.

“Everyone’s very excited and just happy to have some sense of normalcy as far as a season minus the smoke and some other things,” Crater head coach Justin Loftus said. “Just pumped up coming back into it."

The return to normalcy isn’t just the fact that the course at Lane Community College will have runners on it once more during the first weekend of November. It’s also the chance for the Crater boys to again attempt to reach the podium once again after their second-place finish behind rival Ashland two years ago.

But preparations for the race have been anything but ordinary for the Comets.

As the Comets have been preparing for the state meet, you couldn’t blame them for their minds being elsewhere a lot of the time.

That’s due to the fact that one of their teammates, sophomore Jeffrey Hellmann, was one of six Crater students injured in a car accident that happened near the school last week. Hellmann, along with a member of the Crater girls team, was able to attend the MWL district meet but will not be able to compete this weeked.

Along with Crater, Crescent Valley, Wilsonville and West Albany are expected to be the top competitors for the 5A boys title.

“It’s been an emotional week,” Loftus said. “On paper before we lost Jeffrey, we were pretty much tied with Crescent Valley. They have a pretty strong front four, and without Jeffrey we’re probably 20 or 25 points behind them. We haven’t raced them this year, so that’s to be determined on the state meet course.

“But our guys are definitely ready to put in their best effort. They look really good right now. … It’s pretty emotional. But we forge on.”

Led by junior standout Tyrone Gorze and freshman Josiah Tostenson, the Crater boys stormed their way to the Midwestern League title last Wednesday at Valley of the Rogue State Park. The Comets finished in five of the top seven places, recording 20 points, 70 ahead of second-place Churchill and Ashland.

It all starts with Gorze, who finished ninth at state as a freshman two years ago and is one of the top returners from the 2019 meet.

Gotze has won all six of the races he’s competed in this fall and is trying to complete an undefeated 2021 season. His time of 14 minutes, 44.83 seconds at districts was nearly a minute ahead of the second-place finisher, Tostensen.

With the state meet here, Loftus has no doubts about just how well Gorze is running.

“He’s ready 100 percent,” Loftus said. “I feel like he’s been overlooked across a couple of states for a while, so I feel like he’s ready to roll and he’s fired up. It’s going to be fun to watch him race and see what he can do.”

Tostenson, the younger brother of former Crater standout Jantz Tostenson, enters his first state meet coming off a second-place finish behind Gorze last week. Despite his youth, Loftus credits the pedigree and family environment for what will allow the youngest member of the Comets’ group to feel comfortable this weekend.

“He's a polished runner,” Loftus said of Josiah. “He’s probably the most polished runner I’ve had as a freshman. He has more experience just being around running in general and being around competition since he was 2, so I have complete faith in him and how he’s going to compete.”

Ashland’s Nathan Stein, who finished third behind Gorze and Tostenson at the MWL meet, is also expected to be in medal contention.

In 5A girls, MWL champion Grace Yocanelli will lead an Ashland squad that captured the district title over Crater last week. Yocanelli, a senior, has one of the top times in 5A this season, running a personal-record 18:10.8 mark at the Lewis & Clark College XC invitational on Oct. 16.

At the 6A level, South Medford senior Michael Maiorano and North Medford’s Estella Gutches are the top locals gunning for a medal, which is given to the top four finishers.

Maiorano finished second at the Southwest Conference meet last week behind South Eugene’s Asher McKinnon, leading the Panthers to a third-place finish.

Gutches, a junior, captured the top spot at the SWC meet with a personal-record time of 18:51.8, two seconds ahead of Grants Pass senior Madison Wilt.

“She’s had a great 10 days since the district meet,” North Medford head coach Piet Voskes said of Gutches. “It’s a nice position for her to be in because she’s no longer a target. There’s so many talented girls, and arguably the No. 1 girl in the nation running on Saturday, that Estella just gets to be amongst that quality talent and kind of, in a way, leach off that. That’s been our attitude that she just needs to embed herself in that top 20 group and see how things fold.”

Phoenix’s Elwood Hosking and Jake Sorani of Cascade Christian will be amongst the top runners in the 4A and 3A/2A/1A races that are part of the morning session in Eugene on Saturday.

Hosking won the Skyline Conference individual title by 11 seconds, while Sorani was just as dominant at the Far West League meet, Sorani won the Spring 3A/2A/1A championship meet, which was not officially designated by the OSAA.

On the girls side, Phoenix’s duo of Sophia Stubblefield (18:25) and Kayla Potratz (18:29.3) enter with the second- and third-fastest times in 4A this season, both recorded at The Harrier Classic in Albany on Oct. 2.

No matter who takes the course at Lane, conditions will be interesting, with rain having been a constant throughout the last couple of days as well as forecast for much of Saturday.

“I think it’s a great equalizer for us, it makes it a fairer race for all and it really kind of brings those faster girls back a bit,” Voskes said. “It’s a mindset, and we’ve had teams very successful (at state) in those conditions who may not have run as well if it had been a bright sunny day. We’re building on the idea of being mudders, so to speak, and enjoying that aspect of racing and taking advantage of other people maybe being a little hesitant to run in those conditions.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater’s boys cross-country team at the start of the Midwestern League district championships at Valley of the Rogue State Park.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Tyrone Gorze pushes to the finish to win the Midwestern League boys championship at Valley of the Rogue State Park last Wednesday.