Nov. 13, 2019 — It was a day of mixed emotions for Siuslaw Cross Country at the OSAA 4A State Championship on Saturday.
The girls team took second — a repeat performance from last year — while the boys took sixth, besting their eighth-place finish the year prior. Individually, Hannah Rannow took third overall in the girls’ race, while Brendon Jensen took fifth in the boys’ division.
“You have to be pretty excited about a top-six finish for the boys. That’s top six in the state. Obviously, the girls were second place, and that’s great too,” Coach Chris Johnson said. But still, both teams felt a twinge of disappointment after Saturday’s race was finished.
“The girls were trying to win a state title and the boys were trying to trophy — and we both came up short,” Johnson said. “That’s athletics, I guess.”
The teams followed their usual strategy, running at an even pace.
“You look at Brendon Jensen, he was moving up the entire race and was aggressive,” Johnson said. “He got all the way to fifth place, which was a great performance. The rest of the kids didn’t move up. It’s hard to explain, I don’t know why. I don’t think we went out too hard, we didn’t come out too slow. We just weren’t aggressively moving up, which has been kind of our hallmark over the years. For one reason or the other, we just couldn’t move up through the ranks.”
The placement is particularly tough for the teams when considering the expectations.
“You come into a situation where you think you can win, and you don’t — It’s tough,” Johnson said. “Last year, we got second place and we felt like we were on top of the world because it didn’t feel like we had any chance to win. This year, 10 days before, we beat the team [Marist] that won the state title. Obviously, you’re excited to win second place. But when you think you have a chance to win, second place sometimes is a bitter pill to swallow.”
Before Saturday, Siuslaw was riding high with a pair of first-place wins at the Sky-Em League meet, with both teams beating rival Marist by one point.
“During that game, Siuslaw was prepared, aggressive and competitive, and we were able to beat the defending state champions,” Johnson said.
But Marist didn’t seem to take the loss lying down, especially on the girls’ side.
“Maybe it was like shooting a bear with a .22,” Johnson said. “I think we just made Marist mad, and they came out and ran an inspired race. We didn’t run poorly, but we didn’t run with the type of intensity it takes to beat a team like Marist. Not on that day. Maybe where I screwed up is, it’s difficult to come back and match the same intensity you had the week before when you come out victorious. Marist was upset that they lost district, and they were determined to come out and put up a fight.”
That doesn’t mean that Siuslaw wasn’t fighting on Saturday.
On the girls’ side, Rannow ran one of her fastest time ever, finishing with 18:34.0.
Sisters harrier Ella Thorsett capped a stellar year, finishing the race with an outstanding time of 17:43.7 for first place, followed in second place by Junction City’s Anika Thompson, who is “far and away the best athlete in the state this year,” Johnson said. To come in third above the Marist runners, along with harriers from Tillamook and Stayton that were running personal bests in the race, Rannow finished her high school cross country career strong.
“Obviously, she would love to have a state title, but I have to hand it to her,” Johnson said.
The girls team had other standouts as well.
“Chloe Madden had an unbelievable performance. She had a PR, and it’s tough to PR under those conditions because there’s a lot of pressure. But she came through,” Johnson said.
Madden finished in 19th place with a time of 19:54, and was running in a pack with Brea Blankenship (19:52, 18th place) and Rylee Colton (17th place, 19:44).
Gracie Freudenthal finished out the top 30 with a time of 20:17.1, followed by Anne Wartnik in 31st with a time of 20:17.7.
“No question we have a lot to be proud of,” Johnson said. “We had four girls in the top 19, and that’s normally enough. We had five in the top 30. That’s normally enough, it just wasn’t enough on Saturday.”
On the boys’ side, the team took sixth, which improved over last year’s showing of eighth place. Saturday’s race was a battle between a whole host of strong schools, from Philomath to Sisters to Marist.
“Brendon had a great race,” Johnson said. “He executed the race strategy perfectly, working his way up through the field. He beat the district champion from Marist at the last corner there. It was a great race for Brendon for his senior year.”
Jenson took fifth overall, with a time of 16:14.7. The next Siuslaw runner to cross the finish line was freshman Samuel Ulrich, who came in 26th with a time of 16:47.3, followed by freshman Kyle Hughes in 37th with a time of 17:01.7.
“You’re first time at a state meet, it’s difficult. There’s no way to prepare anyone for what the pressure is like. It’s palpable,” Johnson said.
Senior Jared Northrop finished his career with a personal best, coming in 46th in 17:18.8.
“He had a great race,” Johnson said.
Overall, Johnson felt Siuslaw Cross Country “Had a great season. Anytime you can walk away with a championship, you have to be happy. We had a great season. They’re great kids. This is probably the nicest group of kids I’ve ever coached. They’re fun to be around and they work hard. This is a year we can be proud of to be sure.”
As for next year, both teams will be losing some strong runners to graduation.
“This has been a really successful senior class of kids. We have to do some work. A lot of the teams that were competitive this year will have the same lineup next year.”
Still, Johnson thinks they’ll be competitive.
“We’ll have to keep training and working hard on the boys’ side. I think we will be in that trophy hunt. On the girls’ side, we’ve got a couple of incoming freshmen who are going to be thrown to the wolves a little bit. But with Brea, Rylee and Gracie, we’ll be as good as any team coming back. We just have to add to that core and we’ll be competitive again.”