Miller 10th in girls district championships as Huskies finish cross-country season

Freshman McKenzie Miller was Sweet Home’s top finisher at the Oregon West Conference cross-country district championships Saturday, Oct. 29, at Philomath High School.

Coach Dave Martin was pleased with most of the performances he saw, he said.

“Several people had major PRs,” he said. “From the beginning of the season to this race we had some people who improved by three minutes or more.”

The Huskies were as young, experience-wise, as they have been in recent memory, as Martin had one two runners who had actually competed previously in cross-country. Plus, they hadn’t run a race for three weeks, since the Oct. 8 Paul Marriman Invite, which was held on the same course at Philomath.

But Martin said the break from racing may have helped his team, “mentally.”

“Because of the workouts that we had, I wasn’t worried that we hadn’t had a race,” he said. “Last week we did a practice 5K run – a serious run but not a race. The kids looked relaxed and comfortable,” adding that in the district competition, “kids who have been healthy and been able to be at practice most of time, they ran well.

Miller finished with a 19-second PR in what was her fourth race at the 5K distance taking 10th on the girls side.

Miller said having run the course previously helped. She particularly liked a stretch in which runners follow a path through a grove of mature Douglas firs, where spectators get up close to urge them on.

“There’s people yelling,” she said. “That helped.”

She said she felt “pretty good” about finishing in the top 10, adding that she didn’t have specific expectations going into the race, which was her fourth at the 5K (3.1 mile) distance ever.

Junior Rylee Markell was second for the Huskies, 17th overall, running 23:08, just seconds off her PR.

“Rylee went out aggressive, but she still finished close to her PR,” Martin noted.

Sophomore Natiyah Walters-Koenig was the next finisher, in 24:04, a PR of nearly a minute and a half.

Peyton Markell, was Sweet Home’s fourth runner, in 24:41, a PR of 1:38, followed by Amelia Sullens in 25:52.

The Markells and Sullens all played soccer as well, so they had limited workout time with their cross-country teammates, as most of their workout runs took place in the early morning.

“I think it went pretty well for me my first year,” Rylee Markell said. “Doing it was fun.”

She said that some team events helped bring the Huskies together.

“It was really fun, once we had a few team dinners.”

As a team, the girls finished in a tie with Newport with 103 points each, but Sweet Home won on a tie-breaker as Meeja Bitter, Sweet Home’s sixth runner, finished in 28:42. Newport did not have a sixth finisher, so Sweet Home was fourth and the Cubs fifth.

“Every kid’s important,” Martin said. “You never know. Every kid has a job, and they need to go out and do it. I was really excited for them.”

Philomath sophomore Adele Beckstead finished first (19:32), ahead of Stayton’s Haley Butenschoen (20:41) and Hope Bridge (20:49), but the Warriors placed all five of their runners in the top nine to win the team title with 28 points. Stayton was second with 56, and Cascade was third with 64.

North Marion had only two runners, not enough to score as a team.

Senior Adrian Kast and junior Will Jewell both had big days, running big PRs. Kast, who is the only member of the entire team who has previous cross-country experience, posted a PR of 21:13.7 to finish 25th in the 36-runner field, the fastest time he’s run this season by 1:46, to lead the Huskies.

“I don’t even know what was going through my head,” said Kast, who told a coach after the event “that was my best race this year. I felt really, really good in that one.

“I really focused on moving my arms, keeping the good breathing,” he told a reporter. “That helped me.”

Freshman Jim Morgan wasn’t far behind in 21:36.1.

Kast said after he and Morgan had gone through the first mile in 6:20, he thought, ‘We’re doing really good. We’re gonna get a good PR.'”

Jewell was 32nd in 24:04.5, a PR by 1:44.

“Phenomenal,” Martin said of the big improvements.

Sweet Home’s fifth runner, Vegas Mauer, finished in 27:01, well off his best run of the season. Mauer, however, forgot his shoes and ran in pull-on boots and in his stocking feet for most of the race.

Junior Ethan Delibertis, who has been the boys’ leading runner most of this season, had a bad day, finishing last for the Huskies in 27:24, well over six minutes behind his best 5K time of the season.

“They missed the better part of the last three weeks,” Martin said of Mauer and Delibertis. “They were not going to be able to PR that day. It was a disappointing way for their season to end. Because they’d given me really good races earlier in the year.”

With the travails suffered by Mauer and Delibertis, the boys finished fifth with 144 points, behind Philomath (22), Cascade (59), Newport (67) and Stayton (84). North Marion did not have enough runners to score. Philomath seniors Ben Hernandez (16:28) and Mateo Candanoza (16:51) finished 1-2, with Newport sophomore Connor Brown third in 16:53.

Kast, who saw his sophomore season disappear in the COVID pandemic and didn’t run last year as a junior, said it was a good year.

“Once COVID hit, we had to run in masks and I was like, ‘I can’t do that,’ he said. “But after doing it this year, I wish I had another year because we are really doing good and the team is going to do really well next year.”

He said he hopes to help out next year.

“I’m gonna really help get everybody ready and have them run good, good (emphasis) times.”

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