Cross-country team going to need fast finish

Scott Swanson

Cross-country races are won in the summer.

That fact, frequently preached by Coach Billy Snow and his staff, apparently was lost on many of the Huskies during the last few months as they enter the 2012 season.

“Virtually all of the team didn’t do the running over the summer they should have,” Snow said last week as his team prepared for their season opener, at Camp Tadmor, on Tuesday, Sept. 11. “Inexperienced and out of shape. Not a good combo.”

For the girls, Sweet Home is bringing back only two runners with varsity experience. Nicole Rasmussen, who was expected to have led the team this year after placing seventh at state last year, moved to North Dakota prior to the start of the season.

On the boys side, the Huskies have more veterans coming back, but thanks to injuries and other reasons, there isn’t the mileage base Snow was hoping for.

A third challenge – so far, anyway, is depth.

“Our numbers are down,” Snow said. “Right now we’re around 20. We need a few more bodies. It would be nice to have 30 – half of them girls.”

With zero freshmen boys thus far, coaches are hoping to pick up some new recruits as the school year actually swings into action.

The situation Snow describes is not unusual for many teams, including some Sky-Em schools, but the Huskies have moved out of the pack in recent years and qualifying for state has become an expected goal for both the boys and girls. This year the Huskies’ chances depend on how fast they progress and the strength of the other Sky-Em teams.

The Sweet Home runner who comes in most prepared this year on the girls side, Snow said, is senior Paige Sanders who will be “far and away the leader of the team.”

“Paige came back in pretty good shape,” he said of the four-year varsity runner. What she’ll need to do is pick out guys she can stay with and have them pull her along.”

He said he expects Sanders to place in the top five in district, which has been won by a Sweet Home girl for the past five years – last year by Rasmussen, the previous three by Olivia Johnson and the 2005 title by Amanda Basham.

Also back from last year’s varsity is senior Tashana Mithen.

“She’s not in the shape I’d like her to be in, but she has experience under her belt,” he said.

The rest of the girls are “pretty inexperienced,” Snow said. “Right now we have only eight girls out. They’re learning what training’s all about. They’re getting through some muscle soreness and things of that nature.”

The girls team is rounded out by seniors Kayla Daniels and Hailey Hummer, returnee Candalynn Johnson, also a senior, sophomore Sierrah Owen, and freshmen Emilie Rice and Sierra Swanson.

In a tune-up cross-country race held at Bush Park in Salem last week, Sanders ran 22:41, good for eighth among the women, while Hummer ran 25:07 in her first cross-country race. Johnson finished in 27:26, a minute under her PR for the 5000-meter distance.

“I thought Haley and Candy both had good times, and Paige showed she’d run over the summer,” Snow said.

On the boys side, two experienced competitors are back in senior Daniel Danforth and sophomore Jakob Hiett.

After sweeping the top two spots in the district 3000-meter race last spring and Hiett’s district title in the 1500 race, in which Danforth was third, Snow said he expects the two to be among the better runners in the district this year.

“Our guys team is going to be interesting,” he said. “We have a solid three-deep, a solid four with Ian Wingo as the fourth.

“But (Wingo) didn’t run this summer and he’s going to be playing catch-up,” Snow said. “Unfortunately, the time he catches up will be the time the season comes to an end.”

He’s not the only one. The Huskies are short on summer mileage on the boys side as well as the girls.

“A lot of the kids did other things – biked, this or that. But if you’re going to be a runner, you run,” Snow said.

Danforth and newcomer Alex Seitz plan to play soccer and run cross-country, with cross-country their primary emphasis.

“They’ll get workouts in before they go over there,” Snow said.

He said Hiett had a “decent” time in the Bush Park warm-up race, running 17:41, for 12th oerall.

Danforth ran 19:02, for 20th, but Snow said he expects him to improve significantly as he gets in shape.

The boys team also has David Johnson and Nicholas Mattson, who have varsity experience, and returnees Saul Jones and Trevor Melson from last year’s junior varsity.

Rounding out the boys team are newcomers Nick Dadey, a junior; Robert Gourley, a junior; senior Kyle Moore-McKay, senior Alex Seitz and sophomore Mark Taraski.

“We have no freshmen boys right now,” Snow said. “We have some new kids, but most of them are juniors or seniors. We’re glad to have them but we’d like to have some freshmen.”

Sisters, which appears to have little problem collecting runners every year, is back as the favorite on both the boys and girls sides, Snow said. The rest of the league is a question mark, as he said Cottage Grove graduated a lot of seniors on the boys side and the other schools did not promise to be strong in numbers this year.

“None of the other schools had a whole lot,” he said. “But in this sport you never know what they’ll find, so we’ll have to see.”

Partly because coaches were not confident in the conditioning of the team, Snow said the schedule is a little different this year.

Rather than starting with the Newport beach run, the Huskies will open with their own invitational at Camp Tadmor on Sept. 1.

“We’re kind of short a meet,” he said. “We’re not going to Newport and Tadmor is a week early because of the availability of the facility.”

A new meet will be the Star City Cross-Country Classic hosted by Corban University in Salem on Oct. 3 and the Huskies will return to the Bristow Rock ‘n’ River Invitational, hosted by Pleasant Hill, on Oct. 13, which they ran in 2010.

“Pleasant Hill will be a tough field,” Snow said of the meet, held at Elijah Bristow State Park. “There will be a lot of teams there, including some 6A teams.”

“We kind of kept the beginning lighter just because I know these kids are not in shape,” he said. “They’re just not there. Rather than trying to race them into shape, it’s better to train them into shape.”

That doesn’t mean the Huskies can’t pull it out, he said, but it will mean more emphasis on training and less on racing as they aim for the district meet at the end of October.

“We’re having fun,” Snow said. “The first two or three weeks, we’re working on our base. I’m enjoying this group.

“We’d much rather spend the time training rather than racing. If you’re not ready for district, you won’t get to run the next weekend.”