Cross-country runners aiming for state berths and more

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home cross-country may have a different look this year, but new coach Andrew “Keebler” Allen is hoping the end result will be similar to last year’s – berths in the state meet or better.

Both the boys and girls teams are full of young runners – with only one senior on each team – but many of those youngsters are veterans.

What’s missing for the girls is a reliable front-runner, with the graduation of Nicole Rasmussen, who was district champion in 2011 and finished second three times. But what’s left is a pack that can run together, which scores points in cross-country, where teams are scored in order of finish, with the lowest total score winning.

“What we will need is a solid pack moving forward to the front in races,” Allen said. “That’s what this team has to do.”

On the boys side, senior Jakob Hiett is back after battling through an injury this summer. Hiett is a two-time district titlist and finished third at state last year.

“Jakob worked out this summer, but not his normal summer mileage,” Allen said. “He will be back up there. I’m not too worried. He will be slower early, but he will be back on top.”

Also back from last year’s team is sophomore Issac Justham, who was a varsity runner as a freshman.

“Issac has a lot of talent. We just have to get him to focus on the race at hand. He is one of the ones who gets kids out to run when it’s not an official practice. He’s been working with the younger athletes and he’s really kind of taken them under his wing. He keeps them going.”

Justham was the Huskies’ fourth runner at last year’s district championships, but Allen said this year’s team will be very competitive and it’s hard to predict who will be where.

“Issac could be anywhere from second to fifth man in this squad,” he said. “This team has all those pieces there. It’s going to fluctuate a lot. Everybody will be fighting for their spots.”

Part of the reason for that is the arrival of sophomore Trey Reed, who was the only freshman to qualify for the state 400-meter championships last year. Reed decided to forgo football in favor of cross-country to work on his running and Allen expects him to raise the Huskies’ profile.

Sophomore Julian Hesberg is up from the junior varsity and Noah Taraski arrives from the junior high program to add to the mix.

“Julian became one of our best varsity guys in track and he’s run all summer and we’re excited to have Noah,” Allen said. “We’ve got some newbies who are showing their talent. There are really a lot of wild cards. It wouldn’t surprise me if we had 11 different people run varsity on the guys side. I expect this year’s fifth guy to be better than last year’s third guy. We’ve got competitive camaraderie.”

Other runners for the boys are juniors Adam Barber and Joseph Rasmussen, and sophomores Nick Rietz and Nick Tolman.

Back for the girls are sophomore Dana Hiett and juniors Kayleen Keeney and Sierra Swanson, who are expected to lead the pack of runners Allen expects, along with junior Maria Daniels, who made great strides last year, cutting six minutes off her 5K times over the course of the season.

New to the team but expected to contribute are senior Jessica Stockman and freshman Bethany Gingerich, along with Kanon Takamura, an exchange student from Japan.

“Most of those have been training this entire summer together,” Allen said. “They bought into the concept a year ago that if you want to be good, you have to train in the off-season. We don’t have a super talented person up front, but they run together and they push each other.

“Our girls team is very much a pack team. Last year we saw signs of how strong this pack would be. We have a couple of newbies and I think we will have a stronger fifth runner, which has been our weak spot. That should offset not having a frontrunner.”

This year’s schedule is similar to what the Huskies have run the last several years, with the absence of a home meet, because their Tadmor Invitational at Camp Tadmor did not work out for “technical reasons,” Allen said.

Instead, Sweet Home will run at the Ash Creek Invitational at Western Oregon, which will include some big Portland schools that the Huskies normally don’t compete against.

“In cross-country you often run against anybody,” Allen said. “It’s not just limited to the 4A like other sports.”

Sweet Home will open its season Friday, Sept. 5, at the Marist Invitational at Richardson Park on Fern Ridge Reservoir. Races for the Huskies begin at 4 p.m.

Around the league, Allen said, he sees three-team battles for first on both sides.

“Right now, both programs are definitely two of the top programs in the conference,” he said of the Huskies.

He sees Cottage Grove and Sisters providing significant competition for state berths on the girls side and Elmira and Sisters battling Sweet Home on the boys.

“Elmira is really hungry because we kept them out last year,” he said. “They missed by two points.”

On the girls side, Sisters placed six runners directly behind Cottage Grove’s Breanna Wright and the Huskies’ Rasmussen last year, and only one, Zoe Falk, was a senior. Sweet Home’s runners were about 30 seconds behind the Sisters pack, so it remains to be seen what the Outlaws bring to the table.

Also, Wright will be back for her junior senior, joined by sophomore Hudson Weybright, who was fourth in the district 3000 last spring. Also back is Sisters senior Aria Blum, who was third behind Wright in the 2013 district cross-country championship.

“Cottage Grove has two front-runners who are pretty good and I expect them both to do well this year,” Allen said. “Right now it’s us and Sisters. I think Sisters has a good chance at the district title but we could be right there.”