New cross-country coach returning to SH to build program

Scott Swanson

Of all the sports at Sweet Home High School, it might be argued that cross-country has suffered the most from the COVID pandemic.

Husky harriers have seen multiple coaches since the retirement of Billy Snow, after 15 years at the helm, in 2014, none for more than three complete seasons, and the lack of a junior high program in the sport has not helped.

This year, Dave Martin has returned to head the program. Martin, who was Snow’s predecessor before taking a job in Klamath Falls coaching at Oregon Institute of Technology, has retired from teaching and was brought back last spring by Athletic Director Dan Tow.

Martin brings a record of success during his previous years with the Huskies.

The boys teams finished second, third, fourth and fifth at state during his time at the helm.

“The year we got second, Tillamook went 1-2-3,” Martin said, adding that there wasn’t much hope for a close second in a state meet with that kind of dominance.

Jessie Shra won Sweet Home’s only girls state cross-country title in 1993 under Martin’s tutelage, and although he didn’t have any boys champions, he had multiple runners finish in the top 10 – Jesse White, Manuel Robledo, Joe Olsen and others.

Incidentally, when Jakob Hiett became the first Sweet Home boy to win a state cross-country title, in 2014, he was coached by one of Martin’s alums, Andrew Allen.

Now Martin is starting, essentially, from scratch, since all of last year’s boys have graduated, team MVP Nate Coleman moving on to Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where he is running cross-country.

Last year’s lone girl, Lydia Wright, now a junior, has opted to get a job, Martin said.

But Martin has done some recruiting and has eight runners “working out consistently,” he said, and he hopes to add a few more as students return to school.

He is being assisted by Andrew McIntyre, a former Marist runner who is associate pastor at Community Chapel.

On the boys side, Adrian Kast, who competed for Sweet Home in 2019, is back as a senior, and is joined by three juniors, Ethan Delibertis, Vegas Mauer and William Jewell, and freshman Lukas Thompson.

The four older runners have been training very closely together, doing runs together,” Martin said. “That’s been going well.”

Back for the girls is senior Meeja Bitter, who competed briefly last year in cross-country, then focused on basketball.

She is joined by sophomore Nataya Walters-Koenig and freshman McKenzie Miller, who posted the fastest time in the 100 last spring (14.04) for the Sweet Home Junior High girls.

Martin expects to get participation from several soccer players as well, which will give him the five athletes he needs to field complete teams on both the boys and girls sides.

Senior soccer player Mason Lopez, who was also last year’s track and field MVP, will run for the boys in certain races, and from the girls soccer team, junior Rylee Markell will be joined by sophomores Peyton Markell, her sister, and Amelia Sullens to give the girls enough runners to score at districts as a team, if they all compete.

Sullens was one of the Huskies’ top sprinters last spring on the track and the Markell sisters both posted big PRs in the distances under Martin’s tutelage over the last track season.

Sisters has left the Oregon West Conference, replaced by North Marion. Martin says he expects Philomath, which will host this year’s district meet, and Stayton, on the girls side, to present some challenges for the others in the league.

Right now, he’s most focused on getting his program off the ground.

“I’m hopeful that we might add couple here, once school starts,” he said. “That often happens with cross-country kids.”