Sept. 18, 2019 — The Siuslaw boys cross country team snagged its first win of the season, taking first place in the 5,000 Meters 1A - 4A varsity division at the Northwest Classic on Saturday. The team scored 89 points — seven points ahead of Newport, which came in with 96.
“We have a combination of youth and experience on the team, and I think right now our senior leadership … they know this is sort of end-of-the-line,” cross country coach and Siuslaw High School Athletics Director Chris Johnson said. “They’re pretty focused on getting better as a team. And then our young boys are really starting to step up and make us a lot less vulnerable than what people thought we were before the season started.”
It’s a return to form for the cross country team, which is ranked second in the state, “but that doesn’t mean anything,” Johnson pointed out. “It just on paper. Sometimes rank is based on reputation and things that happened before — and not necessarily what happened last year.”
And last year the team suffered a string of defeats. It wasn’t because the talent wasn’t there, according to Johnson, who for years thought that the sky was the limit.
“But for whatever reason, we just haven’t quite put it together to a level I thought they could be and I wanted them to be. They won a league championship two years ago and they made it to state before. But I guess we just haven’t had the mentality that we could be a top team.”
It’s that mentality that Johnson has been working on with the team.
“If you want to be good, you have to tell yourself that you’re going to be good and you just have to go out and make it happen,” he said. “I think their mindset is different now. … We still have a long way to go, but I think they’re getting the sense of what’s possible. That’s pretty exciting. Sometimes it’s just understanding that it’s a possibility. That goes a long way to make things happen.”
Before the boys race began, the girls cross country had just finished their race, eeking out a first-place win.
“I told them before the race was over, ‘Aren’t you tired of being second fiddle to the girls? Let’s go out and get this thing done,’” Johnson recalled.
So, the boys got things done.
“It was a great race,” Johnson said. “They ran smart and they moved up really well throughout the race and we had an outstanding performances for sure.”
Jensen ended up fourth overall, clocking in at 16:27.20.
“Sam Ulrich just continues to amaze me,” Johnson said, with Ulrich coming in 15th in 17:17.10. “For a freshman to be our second man on the team at a pretty prestigious invitational, that’s pretty exciting.”
Jaxson Jensen, who is also showing promise in the Viks JV soccer program, came in 19th, while Kiger Johnson “finished really well and closed strong by passing a lot of people.”
Collin Hughes, another freshmen, “Really stepped up and passed a lot of people the last mile or so,” Johnson said.
The team’s win was not a lock, particularly at the halfway mark, where they were 27 points with a mile to go.
“But that’s kind of our M.O.,” Johnson said. “The strategy is that the race is 5,000 meters long, and we want to make sure that we’re moving consistently throughout the entire race. That just means you have to be smart and you have to be patient and wait for the opportunity to present itself.”
As for the future of the team, Johnson isn’t taking anything for granted. While there were plenty of top-ranked schools at the meet, the Viks’ biggest challenge, Marist, didn’t compete.
“We can be excited that we got a victory, but a lot of things could happen,” Johnson said. “I’m sure teams could have a couple people missing here or there. We’re optimistic, but we know we have to work really hard and run really smart in order to meet some of the lofty goals that we’re hoping to meet.”