XC awards banquet

Sophomore Mckenzie Miller and freshman Ryker Burr were named their cross country team’s outstanding runners Thursday evening during the annual awards banquet.

The two led their teams at the district meet held at Philomath, with Burr taking the boys team to a fourth-place finish ahead of Cascade and behind Stayton, Philomath and Newport. He placed 13th to join the second-team all league.

Miller led the girls team to a fifth-place finish out of five complete teams at Philomath and finished eighth overall in the race to earn second-team all-league honors.

Their teammates voted to name them outstanding runners for 2023.

Coach Dave Martin told his team and family members about how far this team has come since last year. It grew from 12 girls and boys last year to 22 this year. The boys team had more members than the entire program last year.

“It’s a testament to the people who are connected to the program,” Martin said. “They see the value of it.”

The growth came through the support of the athletes on the team, their families, other coaches, teachers and Ali Gardner, who organized a junior high meeting for cross country last spring, leading to five freshmen signing up, Martin said.

He is looking to have at least 30 in the program next year, he said. “We can’t just rest on our laurels here.”

It also meant a lot of inexperience. Sixteen out of 22 kids had never run cross country before, Martin said. “It was a lot of learning, considering that on our varsity team, Jim (Morgan, sophomore) was the only one who’d run cross country before.”

On the girls side, five of them had previous experience.

Martin can list off a number of reasons to be optimistic about these two teams next season, especially if everyone gets out and runs throughout the year.

The team loses one senior, Rylee Markell, he said. “She’s so smart, so dedicated. She was our number two girl. She was 15th (at districts), one place out of second team.”

The team returns all other runners, he said. On both sides, the junior high will send runners who will be able to compete for varsity slots.

On the boys side, 11 guys are looking for seven spots, Martin said. Sophomore Cannon Klumph, for example, would have been the Huskies’ fifth runner at districts had he run varsity. He was fifth at districts in junior varsity. Sophomore Keagan Vogel is right in that mix too, finishing 9th overall in the junior varsity race.

At the varsity level, Burr shaved his 5K time from 21:02 to 18:56, Martin said. “He ran the last two miles of the race without one shoe, and he ran 2 minutes 6 seconds faster than he’d ever run before.”

The team is stronger and better, with 19 out of 22 on both teams setting significant PRs this year, Martin said. The guys have been running with Burr all season, and he completely skipped 19- and 20-minute races to get into the 18s.

“He’s broken the barrier for them,” Martin said. “They can move on.”

Next year, Martin is looking for seven guys to finish faster than the team’s number-one guy this year, he said. He’s looking for all seven to run better than 18:56.

He expects this year’s outstanding boy, Burr, to be part of that.

“He knows what he wants, and he finds out what do I need to do to get there,” Martin said. “He’s very coachable. He takes in information very well.”

He hears something from his coaches, contemplates it and puts it into practice, Martin said. “He was at every single summer practice. I would see him running off days too.”

He was dealing with a hip problem early on. After racing on Sept. 2, he was out the next four weeks in therapy. He came back to run a 30-second PR at Philomath on Oct. 7, Martin said. “This kid’s tough,” noting again, he ran two miles without one shoe in his district race.

The outstanding girl, Miller, “finished number one in every race,” Martin said. “Such an improvement over last year.”

Last year, she was learning how to run a 5K, Martin said. “This year, she knew what do from the beginning. She ran great races throughout. She medaled in every race except for the Oregon City race.”

There she finished 16th against 5A and 6A teams, Martin said. She had a little trouble with her ankle late in the season and missed some practices, but then she ran a really great race at districts.

She went out with the top two girls from Philomath, who finished at 8th and 10th at the state meet, Martin said. “She stayed with them for 3,500 meters.”

At that point, she couldn’t stay with them any more and she was swallowed by the pack behind her, Martin said. In the end, she had run 1 minute 9 seconds faster this year, moving into 8th place at districts from 10th place. Seventh place would have sent her to the state meet.

Among the remaining team awards, Burr was named the team’s Most Inspirational. Morgan was named Toughest Runner. Koharu Yasuda was Most Improved Girl. Most Improved Boy was Keagan Vogel. The awards were all decided by a team vote.

Coach Martin selected Conner Spencer for the Consistency Award for completing all eight races in the season. He missed just a couple of workouts for a family situation and to watch his sister run. He was at every practice over the summer.

Receiving a first-year letter on the girls team was sophomore Anabelle Morris. Second-year letters went to sophomore Mckenzie Miller; juniors Natiyah Koenig-Walters, Peyton Markell and Amelia Sullens; and senior Rylee Markell.

First-year lettermen on the boys team were freshmen Ryker Burr, Hunter Clark, Kason Koenig-Walters, Conner Spencer and Trent Harvey; sophomore Cannon Klumph; and junior Kasey Kast. Jim Morgan received his second-year letter.