SHS cross country on course for runaway season

Last week, the Vikings’ cross country teams had stellar performances in two meets. The first was a dual meet against Marshfield on Wednesday (March 10) at the Millicoma Trail. The second was an invitational at Bandon Fugate Farms, where Siuslaw faced off against one of its main competitors this season, Bandon.

The men’s and women’s teams took wins at both meets, showcasing their athleticism by running two meets in three days. Athletic Director and head coach Chris Johnson explained his reasoning behind keeping both meets on the schedule last week.

“When I put our schedule together several months ago, everybody was at the extreme risk [level], so it was looking like dual meets would be all we could do,” said Johnson. “As things have changed, it's opened up opportunities, but I felt like with agreements I made a while back, we needed to honor those.”

As Johnson explained, “It was such a frenetic pace trying to put things together that I don't know if we really realized that the Bandon meet and the Millicoma meet were only two days apart, and that's certainly not what we do. I like to race once a week, and this sport is way more about training than it is about racing.”

At Millicoma, the Lady Viks finished first overall with a score of 15, with all five runners from Siuslaw finishing in the top six.

Rylee Colton (19:44.9) and Brea Blankenship (20:18.1) placed first and second respectively. Next across the finish for Siuslaw was Gracie Freudenthal in fourth place with a time of 21:28.4. Jane Lacouture placed fifth, and Corduroy Holbrook was sixth, with times at 23:16.2 and 23:26.5, respectively.

Johnson said the course at Millicoma helped the runners a great deal. “The course is pretty cool down there,” said the coach. “A lot of it was on the track; they have a 2K loop on a trail in the back of the track, and another 2K loop, so they could run pretty fast considering they didn't have to put a full effort in. It was more like a practice with uniforms on than it was a meet.”

The men’s team finished just as strong, with Siuslaw scoring 15, and Marshfield 48. In addition, the boys had eight runners finish in the top 10. The first three to cross the finish for Siuslaw were Chad Hughes (16:54.8), Samuel Ulrich (17:26.5) and Kyle Hughes (17:46.2). They were followed in fourth place by Ryan Jennings in 17:47.5, and Jaxson Jensen coming in at 17:48.2 for fifth place.

While sixth place went to Marshfield, the next three to finish were all Vikings. Jacob Blankenship placed seventh (18:33.1), Brayden Linton in eighth place (18:46.8), and Dylan Jensen finished in ninth place (18:54.3).

Johnson remarked upon how his teams have done a phenomenal job adjusting to new norms while still maintaining their dedication and competitive drive.

“It's kind of bizarre,” said the coach, “because normally, this is an invitational-driven situation where we're competing against 20 teams, every weekend, and we're being pushed [as a team]. Kids are being pushed individually, no matter where they are on the spectrum of competitive to emerging.”

According to Johnson, it's a whole different world going to a meet and having one team to compete against rather than multiple teams — and multiple competitive threats.

“It’s a totally different mindset. But I have to give our kids credit, they've really accepted that this is kind of the new normal, and they've put a lot of pride in the fact that we haven't been beaten yet,” Johnson said. “I think that’s because of how things are. We have to create our own sense of urgency, and the kids have certainly done that. I've been coaching for a long time, and I don't think I've ever been through a situation with a group of kids like this.”

Johnson added that, at the beginning of the season, the team wasn’t exactly sure what it was training for. A meet or two? A whole season? Dual meets only?

“We didn't know if there was going to be a season,” Johnson said. “And from the first day we could get together again in November until today, I've had 14 kids who've bought in to our plan, and they've earned every accolade that I can [give] them.”

Just days later, it was time for Bandon.

The boys team had a really close meet with Bandon earlier in the year, and the Bandon’s girls would have beaten Siuslaw at the Siltcoos Outlet meet just a few weeks ago had they had their whole team.

“We knew that that was going to be more competitive,” Johnson said.

Aside from the fact that the first meet with Bandon was very close, Johnson noted that they had plenty of motivation to compete at full speed with the Tigers.

“We have a little rivalry with Bandon. My step-kids go there, my wife used to coach there, and the coach at Bandon is a really good friend. So, we were excited about that opportunity,” said Johnson. “I was walking around so happy to be at a meet in the sunshine and seeing how happy these kids are to get out there and put the pedal to the metal.”

Pacing their efforts and saving a bit of energy for Friday’s meet proved to be a perfect plan for the Vikings with the girls team defeating Bandon 23-32.

Colton and Brea Blankenship finished first and second, respectively, with times of 19:39.59 and 19:56.47. Aside from the two runners who finished first, Siuslaw had all five runners come in with top 10 scores. Freudenthal finished seventh (22:03.59), Lacouture was ninth (22:19.31) and Holbrook finished 10th overall (22:23.81).

Johnson described watching his girls team’s progress with great pride, saying, “Riley and Brea are so fun to watch. They're so different. Brea’s not very tall, and Riley’s super tall,” he said. “Brea’s like a tiger and Riley's like a kitten. They work so well together and they have so much energy. Gracie, Brea and Riley have been through so much with our teams, and we've been super successful.”

In addition, Johnson has a great deal of respect for the two freshman on the girls team, with-out whom the Lady Viks could not qualify to compete with official scores.

“Jane and Corduroy [have been] thrust into this situation where they're freshmen. “We have five girls on the team; if we have four girls, the team is incomplete. So, they knew from the very first meet of their freshman year that they matter all the time. That's a lot of pressure to come into.”

The boys team was just as hungry for the win and finished victorious as well, defeating Bandon 16-43. The boys had six of their nine runners come in with top 10 spots. Securing first, second and third, respectively, were Chad Hughes (16:40.12), Ulrich (16:52.18) and Kyle Hughes (17:09.03).

Coming in fourth with a time of 17:09.59 was Jennings, followed by Jaxson Jensen in sixth at 17:55.50, and finally Jacob Blankenship with a time of 18:19.50.    

Johnson said he was especially pleased to see Jennings’ performance at the Bandon meet. “Ryan, who's a stud athlete, came out yesterday and had a different mindset. He came out and said, ‘I'm going to throw down today.’”

Johnson also voiced his respect for three of his boys team members who pull double duty for the season.

“Jaxson and Dylan Jensen and Brayden Linton also play soccer,” Johnson explained. “I have a lot of respect for somebody who's under that much pressure.”

Johnson said that, as a whole, each member of both teams has committed themselves to the program beyond just showing up for practice and race days.

“November's when we could get together in person [for the first time],” he said. “But they were running on their own before that. There's no rest for distance runners, it's a year-long, life-long daily grind.”

The Viks return to the course Saturday at Marist for the Sky-Em League preview. Women race at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s race at noon.