By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era 

Cross-country preview: Girls team rebuilding, but boys return talent and experience


August 30, 2016

CROSS-COUNTRY team members include, in front, from left, Bradley Wolthuis, Noah Dinsfriend and Connor Ford. In second row, from left, are Bethany Gingerich, Jake Hindmarsh, Kobe Olson, Noah Taraski, Gabe Aiello and Alice Ramsey. In rear, from left, are Christian Baham, Elea Hewitt, Coach Dan Bixler, Tanner Sayers and Trey Reed.

One thing is certain for the Sweet Home cross-country team: This season will be a rebuilding year, at least on the girls side.

Having said that, though, new coach Dan Bixler welcomes back some proven talent and the good news is, this year, they’re healthy.

The Husky boys finished fourth last year at district and the girls were fifth, and for the first time in nearly 10 years, Sweet Home did not qualify anyone for the state meet. Their top runners at district, Trey Reed for the boys and Sierra Swanson for the girls, both spent last summer recovering from injuries and spent most of the season simply getting in shape before leading their teams at the district meet.

On the boys side, Reed finished 10th as an individual at district and Swanson was 15th, but close behind was Bethany Gingerich, in 17th.

Swanson and three other seniors on last year’s varsity have graduated, but Gingerich is back, though she plans to double as a girls soccer player.

She ran 59.69 in the 400 at state last spring, finishing fourth, and 26.67 in the 200. In her lone 800 last spring she finished in 2:36.99, with no competition from the rest of the field.

Joining her are senior Elea Hewitt, a state qualifier in swimming who’s using cross-country as triathlon training, and incoming freshmen Alice Ramsey and Lauren Taber, both of whom competed in junior high track.

Bixler said he’s hoping for more girls to participate. Sweet Home’s girls cross-country has been the school’s most successful fall sport in the last decade, qualifying for state as a team six times in seven years since 2007 (including missing a state berth by one point in 2008), with three individual girls winning five straight district titles. Due to injuries and other factors, the Husky girls are coming off two straight down years.

“On the girls side, we just need to build a team,” said Bixler, who’s coached at several schools, including a very strong program in Yreka, Calif., before coming to Sweet Home.

He encouraged anyone interested in trying cross-country, girls or boys, to stop by the chemistry room in the science wing of the high school, e-mail him at or visit the Sweet Home Cross Country page at

The boys welcome back all but one of last year’s district varsity members – Julian Hesberg, who has graduated. Returning are: Reed and Kobe Olsen, now seniors; juniors Ricky Yunke and Noah Taraski; and sophomores Tanner Sayers and Noah Dinsfriend, who were the No. 2 and 4 runners for the Huskies in the district meet.

Reed comes into his senior year healthy and with plenty of speed, evidenced by the fact that he had qualified for the state track championships each year since he was a freshman in the 400.

“Trey and Tanner are showing a lot of drive,” said Bixler, who noted “I’m still learning names” last Friday during the Huskies’ first full week of practice.

“Trey definitely has been working. He’ll be good from the get-go.

Dinsfriend, as he did last year, will be doubling with boys soccer.

Yunke is a distance guy, pure and simple, having run 1:32.07 to place fourth in the Hero Half Marathon last Memorial Day on a course that was out and back on Old Holley Road. Both he and Olsen are accomplished wrestlers – Olsen won a state championship last February as a junior. They started running cross-country last year, in part to get in shape for wrestling in the winter.

Rounding out the roster for the boys are: seniors Nick Tolman and Nick Reitz; juniors Cameron Taber, Jake Hindmarsh and Christian Baham; sophomores Bradley Wolthuis and Gabe Aiello; and freshmen Zachary Zanona, Corban Wright, Tristan Saultz and Connor Ford.

“We have a group of boys who have been working together and that’s a good sign,” Bixler said. “We have a pretty solid team, I think.”

He said he’s been emphasizing form, which is new to most of the Huskies.

“The speed will come after that. I normally make these adjustments in their freshmen year, but they’re working on it.”

Bixler is coming into a league in which cross-country has become very competitive in the last several years.

Sisters’s boys edged Elmira by one point last year to win the district title, but the Outlaws are going to have to reload since three of their five scorers in that race were seniors, though sophomore Jordan Pollard placed sixth. Elmira had three juniors in its top five and it dominated the junior varsity race at districts, posting a perfect score of 15 – the top five finishers were Falcons and all but one were underclassmen. Cottage Grove freshman Konrad Raum was runner-up as an individual last year, but the Lions’ next finisher was No. 22. Junction City, like Elmira, placed three underclassmen in the top 25, including Nos. 4 and 5 in the race.

On the girls side, Sisters also has dominated in recent years, with a seeming non-stop supply of runners each year finishing under 22 minutes, which typically puts any team in position to win the Sky-Em title.

Last year the Outlaws had four underclassmen dip under that mark. Sisters could see a challenge from Junction City this season, as the Tigers finished second last year with five underclassmen among their top six runners, four of them finishing ahead of Sweet Home’s first runner, Swanson. Sutherlin could also be a challenger for a state berth, with its top five finishers on a third-place team underclassmen.

Sweet Home will open the season at a new meet this year, the Outlaw’s Folk Festival Invite at Sisters, on Sept. 9, against some teams the Huskies don’t normally see too much of: Bend, Crook County, Trinity Lutheran, Yamhill-Carlton and La Pine, which was becoming a cross-country power when it dropped to the 3A level from the Sky-Em Conference three years ago.

The rest of the season includes most of the typical meets, with the addition of the Harrier’s Classic at Bryant Park in Albany on Oct. 1.


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