Johnson race is bright spot in tough harriers district meet

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Olivia Johnson was the big winner for the Sweet Home boys and girls cross-country team Saturday, taking the girls district title on a day that proved a bit disappointing for the Huskies overall.

Plagued by injuries on both the boys and girls sides, Sweet Home did not have quite enough to get past Philomath and Central, which qualified their teams for the 4A state championships this Saturday at Lane Community College.

Sweet Home did qualify three girls: sophomores Johnson and Carissa Swanson, and junior Jill Mahler among the four individual qualifiers who, along with the two teams, will represent the Val-Co Conference at state.

Senior Rob Callagan and junior Jayce Calhoon qualified for the boys championships as the boys trailed Philomath (38) and Central (45), finishing with 55 points.

Central, as expected, dominated the girls race with six runners finishing ahead of Sweet Home’s second finisher, Swanson, to score 26 points. Philomath barely extended its streak of qualifying teams for the state championships to 29 years by beating Sweet Home by one point, 58 to 57.

“We did everything we possibly could, but we were just short some bodies,” Coach Billy Snow said.

Johnson, he said, ran “the race we thought she could run”in winning by 15 seconds over the second-place finisher, freshman Alyn Moncsko of Central, in 21:11.79.

“She didn’t panic when the kids went out a little fast,” Snow said. “She ran her race. By mid-race, when she came around the corner halfway through, she was in control and lengthened her lead all the way through.”

Johnson said the race was “really hard” but “it went good.”

“It’s probably the hardest race I’ve ever run,” she said. “It was scary being in front. I thought someone would pass me.”

Stacy Marinelli of Central was third (21:40.51), followed by freshman Olivia Anderson-Gregg (22:08.56) and sophomore Audrey Hellesto (22:16.65), both of Philomath. The newxt four finishers were from Central.

Swanson, who suffered a knee injury in practice two weeks before the race, finished 10th after missing the previous two races for Sweet Home. Mahler was 12th, in 23:29.44, followed by sophomores Caroline Amendola (17th, 24:24.86) and Jenna Kistner (18th, 25:05.57). If one of those five scoring runners had moved up a spot or if one of the Central runners had moved ahead of a Philomath runner, Sweet Home would have gone to state because the Huskies’ sixth-place finisher, junior Natasha Perry (22nd, 26:11.56) would have provided the tie-breaker by finishing ahead of Philomath’s sixth runner. Sweet Home’s other runner, Sarah Hawkins, who was running with a sprained ankle, stepped out midway through the race.

“(The Husky girls) played the cards they were dealt,” Snow said. “They competed. It would have been nice to get one more place, to have a Central girl bump a Philomath runner one spot.”

The runners were disappointed they didn’t qualify as a team.

“Even though I qualified, I wish the team would have qualified,” said Mahler, the most experienced runner for the Huskies, noting that Sweet Home lost half of last year’s district scorers – Amanda Basham, Ashley Danielson and Justine Calhoon – to graduation. “I think we should be proud how we did after losing so many seniors. I think we did excellent as a team.”

Swanson said she was disappointed with her finish.

“I didn’t run as good as I probably could have because I got out of shape because of my knee injury,” she said. “I expected to be second or even first. That was my goal.”

But, she said, “I’m really happy for Olivia. I was more excited than she was.”

On the boys side, injuries that have plagued the Huskies over the past few weeks took their toll, primarily in terms of conditioning. Sweet Home, which had run well as a pack for most of the season, couldn’t pull it off Saturday against the Panthers and Warriors.

“We just didn’t pack in close enough,” Snow said. “That was our strength and we didn’t play to it. We were too spread out.”

Junior Byron Sanders, who had been the Huskies’ lead runner throughout the season until he strained a muscle two weeks ago, finished 12th, suffering from back problems.

“I felt out of shape,” Sanders said. “It felt weird to run.”

Callagan finished fourth in 17:26.72, behind district champ Jeff Schreiner-McGraw of Philomath (17:21.22), Central’s Javier Orozco (17:25.10), Philomath’s Josh Seekatz (17:26.16) and ahead of Central’s Quinn Lindley (fifth, 17:28.18).

Callagan said he felt strong until the end of the race.

“We went out really slow,” he said. “It was really easy, the first part. Central packed up the front and then stretched it out. That kick up the hill (to the finish line) was tough.”

Calhoon finished sixth in 17:32.97, followed by Sanders in 12th (17:57.79), junior Dakotah Keys (16th, 18:47.11), freshman Nick Hall (17th, 18:47.11), junior Casey Keys (18th, 18:51.14) and sophomore Joe Stroud (27th, 19:51.94).

In addition to Sanders, both the Keyses have been battling injuries.

“We had our top six in front of (Central’s) fifth, but we weren’t far enough in front to compete,” Snow said. “I can’t fault the guys. If they walked away and gave it all they had, that’s all they had.

“I’m disappointed for the guys because they had a great, great season. That’s just athletics. You pray that you have the opportunity to compete and be thankful for it. Then you give it your best shot.

“I’m not happy being on this side