Numbers look good for Husky harriers

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home cross-country team has started to develop some momentum in the last couple of years, with runners making the state meet each of the last two years.

Last fall, the boys team, led by Peter VanDerlip and Jess Keys, focused on making the trip to Lane Community College and they achieved that goal, making it the first time since 2000 that a Sweet Home team made state. Cassandra Schumacher qualified for her second straight trip to state and Ashley Danielson also qualified as an individual for the championships.

The bad news this year is that VanDerlip, Keys and Schumacher have graduated.

The good news is that the Huskies have the largest contingent of cross-country runners that Coach Billy Snow can recall, at least in recent history.

“We have 18 guys and 12 girls,” he said, ascribing part of the increase to an influx of former water polo players who moved over when it became apparent there would not be a water polo team this year.

But it’s not just that, he said.

“Some of the veterans have talked (cross-country) up around the school. The fact that they had a little success last year, and some of those kids are back, that helps.”

Back for the boys are veteran seniors Dallin Holden, Byron Sanders and Ramiro Santana, together with junior Robert Callagan.

“They’ve been around the block,” said Snow of the four, who put in a lot of roadwork during the summer to prepare for this season.

“The guys group is going to look a lot like last year,” Snow said. “We have 10 guys who are going to battle for the top seven spots. The good news is that if we have an injury or if someone needs rest, we can sub a guy in and not lose anything.”

On the girls side, the experience comes from Danielson, a senior, and sophomore Jill Mahler, who ran varsity all last year.

Though they are the two with the most varsity experience, Snow said a flock of newcomers is showing promise on both the girls and boys side, despite the fact that they’re raw. He said over half the team who ran in a pre-season warmup race at Bush Park in Salem last Thursday had never run in a cross-country race before.

“Despite that, there’s talent there,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge, huge help with the core group we have out there.”

The boys team is rounded out by seniors Jonathan Lemar and Land Florek; juniors Josh Rice, Nikki Smith and Alex Whitlow; sophomores Jayce Calhoon, Dustin Collman, Conner Cunha, Dakota Nave, Brad Pitts, David Rinehart, Byron Sanders and Michael Simmonds; and freshman Jakob Holden. Calhoon was a state champion swimmer as a freshman and Florek made the state track championships last spring, finishing eighth in the 400.

On the boys side, Snow said last year’s Val-Co League champion Philomath has nearly its entire team back, “which means everyone will be chasing them.”

The Warriors are led by Louis Donadio and David Weiner, both of whom ran under 18 minutes for the 5,000-meter course at the district race in Newport. However, the Huskies beat Philomath at state, finishing one place ahead of the Warriors in 11th.

Snow said Central also will be a team to reckon with, returning its top two runners, Javier Orozco and Joe Deardoff, who also ran under in the 17s at districts.

Snow said he doesn’t know what to expect from Taft or Newport, which were not strong last year on the boys side.

“We’ll be competitive,” he said.

Rounding out the girls team are seniors Amanda Basham and Justine Calhoon; juniors Afton Rodgers and Louise Wilcox; sophomore Natasha Perry ; and freshmen Olivia Johnson, Jenna Kistner, Taylor Rodgers and Carissa Swanson.

Though this is their first year of cross-country, Basham ran the 330 hurdles in the state track championships and Calhoon was a state placewinner in swimming last year.

On the girls side, Snow said defending district champ Newport and Philomath are the teams to beat. Newport lost its two top runners, Mary Vaughan and Saga Briggs, to graduation, but returns its next four – Reanna Meier, Ericka Hicks, Tiffany Druba and Katie Giles. Philomath lost its top runner, Hayley Belli, who placed second to Cascade’s Lindsie Michels in the state 4A championship race, but returns its next six runners, Yessi Alvarado, Erika Hewlett, Alison Preiwe, Laura Schaudt, Annie Esterberg and Stacey Looney.

As far as the rest of the league goes, “Taft, I don’t know where they came from, but they had a decent team at the end,” he said.

“Despite losing Cassandra, I think the girls team will be a lot like the guys,” he said.

“We have a group that can pack together and be fairly competitive, despite the varsity girls team being fairly inexperienced with the exception of Ashley and Jill.”