Cross-country teams aim for state berths in new league

With two returning individual district champions and more girls than he has had in the nine years he’s coached the Huskies, cross-country Coach Billy Snow is expecting his Huskies to be in the running in their first year in the Sky-Em League.

Unlike previous years, the Huskies are relatively balanced this year, with 13 boys and 11 girls and “hopefully we’ll pick up a few more along the way,” Snow said.

The Boys

Unlike the last couple of years, the boys are not loaded with veteran seniors to lead the way, but they have some talented underclassmen.

“We lost quite a few upper classmen guys who were part of the varsity, part of the top five,” Snow said, naming Jake Comstock, Casey Keys and Chris Thompson as examples.

But back are at least three runners who could all be top competitors for the team, he said.

One is Nick Hall, who upset Philomath’s Jeff Schreiner-McGraw last year to win the district title as a sophomore. Snow said Hall may not be in the front of the pack in all the races this year, but he is a threat, along with senior Kyle Hummer, back for his second year of cross-country, and sophomore Daniel Danforth.

“Even though Nick was district champion, we don’t have a true front-running guy,” Snow said. “Nick’s a good runner but he’s got to get into the shape he needs to get into. We have a number of guys with the ability to be our number one runner. It might be one week Nick is the top guys, the next week Kyle, the next week Daniel is the top guy. We have a number of guys who can step in to play that role.”

Also back from last year’s team are junior Anson Davis, sophomore Brett King, senior Jacob Miner, junior Avery Shamek, senior Joe Stroud and junior Lorenzo Virgen.

Hummer was injured for the last half of last year and couldn’t run at district, but is healthy, Snow said. Shamek, Stroud and Virgen bring a “limited mix of varsity experience” and King is “definitely stronger than last year.”

“We have six, seven, eight, maybe 10 guys capable of running in the top five of varsity,” he said.

Newcomers to the team are senior Alec Goetz and freshmen Nick Dadey, Thomas Goble, David Johnson and Justin Stoner.

“If we can get five guys 18 minutes or faster, we’ll be good,” Snow said. “We don’t have to have a top guy way out there.”

He is not real familiar with the Sky-Em, which is losing last year’s top two league finishers, Marist and Pleasant Hill, but he expects a strong team from Cottage Grove, which has five returnees who can run 18 minutes or faster, “and just knowing the Sisters program, they lost their two top guys but I’m still picking them number two and us number three,” Snow said.

“The opportunity is there,” he said. “That’s our goal, to qualify at the district meet.”

The Girls

After winning the Val-Co District title last year, for the second time in three seasons, the Huskies are loaded with experience and Snow says they have the capability to do something Sweet Home has never done in cross-country: place as a team at state.

“This is more of a veteran team, though we have a few newbies,” Snow said. “I told them ‘You guys can be a good group.’

We’ve never had a girls team win a trophy at state, though we had an individual champion in Jessie Shra (1993). I told the girls, to win the district and place in the top four at state €“ that’s our goal.”

Back to lead this year’s team is two-time district champ Olivia Johnson, a senior, who, along with fellow senior Carissa Swanson, Snow expects to be at the top of the Sky-Em league competition.

Johnson placed seventh at state, in 20:27, and ran 20:00 to win the district race last year. Swanson ran 20:40 at district, to place third.

“They are, by far, our fastest girls,” Snow said.

The supporting cast will include senior Caroline Amendola, sophomore Paige Sanders and senior Jenna Kistner, he said.

“They all have state experience, running in big meets and competing at the state meet.”

The rest of the team, thus far, are senior Emily Egbert, junior Liz Egbert, freshmen Tashana Mithen and Nicole Rasmussen,

senior Erin Rose and junior Kimber Swanson. Mithen and Rasmussen are newcomers, but the others all have experience at the junior varsity level.

“Out of the new and returning girls we’ll find our remaining girls,” Snow said. Most of the more experienced girls competed Aug. 27-28 in the Portland to Coast Relay from the Willamette River to Seaside, in which they won the Open Girls Division.

Snow expects his team and Sisters to lead the league, after both Cottage Grove and Junction City have lost their top runners to graduation.

The Huskies and the Outlaws “look dead even to me,” he said. “It kind of falls off after that, but it depends on who they have coming in.”

“If we can not only get a good top five, but get our sixth and seventh runners in front of other teams’ fourth and fifth girls, that could be huge,” Snow said. “I think they are capable of that or I wouldn’t say it.”

The Huskies open their season Saturday with the Murv Fanning Invitational on the beach at Newport Beach.