Nov. 2, 2019 — Siuslaw swept the 4A Sky-Em District Championships in the team division on Thursday, with both boys and girls teams taking the win and qualifying for state.
Four runners also made the cut for individual state runs, while other runners handily beat personal records in the race.
“It was exciting,” cross country head coach Chris Johnson said. “To beat both the Marist teams, which are defending state champions, we knew we had our work cut out for us. The kids executed the game plan and we squeaked out of couple victories.”
Going into the race, the girls were the slight underdog against Marist, who dominated Siuslaw during the Philomath meet earlier in the month.
“We really had our work cut out for us, but we’ve been improving so much,” Johnson said.
The race was dominated by Junction City harrier Anika Thompson, who held a clear lead throughout and took first. But on her heels was the Viking senior Hannah Rannow, who maintained a comfortable second.
The real nucleus for Siuslaw was the combination of Rylee Colton, Brea Blankenship and Gracie Freudenthal, who remained in a tight group from the beginning.
“It’s nice when it works out the way,” Johnson said. “If you have a teammate to lean on, it can help. Obviously, everybody is running their own individual race to their own individual limits, but there’s some comfort in having some teammates around. It’s just a solid lineup. They’re tough. You can see it on their faces, they’re just tough girls that are fun to coach.”
But with half a mile to go, the three were on the bottom half of the top eight, with three Marist runners right behind Rannow.
“I yelled at Riley [Colton], Brea [Blankenship] and Gracie [Freudenthal] that they if they could get in front of Marist’s third girl, we’re going to win the meet,” Johnson recalled. “And the girls started to pull away and Rylee reeled her in and passed her. That was a key moment.”
Colton ended up in fifth place, beating out Marist’s fourth runner, who was followed by Blankenship and Freudenthal, respectively. Marist took ninth, and Siuslaw senior Chloe Madden finished out the top 10, giving the Viks a 1-point win (32-33) over Marist.
Freudenthal beat her PR by a whopping 50 seconds, while Colton beat hers by 20 seconds.
Johnson gave high praise to Madden, who had rolled her ankle earlier in the year, leaving her performance up in the air.
“It just didn’t heal correctly, and she ended up having a cortisone shot and possibly had to have surgery,” Johnson said. “But she preserved, only 3 seconds off of her PR.”
For the boys’ team, Johnson felt that a Siuslaw win was more of a sure bet going into the meet.
“Marist ran really well, better than I expected them to run,” he said. “But I felt like our boys were the favorite going in. And they ended up running — by far — their best race of the year.”
Like the girls’ race, the team win came down to the last minute.
Brendon Jensen had the lead over all the other Viks runners but couldn’t seem to get past runners from Marist, Cottage Grove and Marshfield, who ended up taking the top three.
“Brendon had the goal of trying to win the league title, and who wouldn’t?” said Johnson. “But I think he was realizing that there were a couple of guys pulling away from him and it wasn’t going to happen.”
At that point, it became a team race, with Jensen and Sam Ulrich trying to beat two Marist runners who were in fourth and fifth place.
“Sam came up and they just keyed off each other,” Johnson recalled. “They were behind Marist’s third guy. If Marist has three guys in front of our first, we’re not going to win. It’s almost impossible. But they just came through. They passed three and reeled in two and that was it. That was the 1-point victory.”
Jensen came in fourth and Ulrich fifth, with Kiger Johnson and Kyle Hughes taking 8th and 9th, respectively, in the top 10 and giving Siuslaw the win, 37-38.
“The biggest story is probably the freshmen,” Johnson said. “Sam had a huge PR, the third-fastest time by any freshman in Siuslaw history. Kyle had the sixth-fastest. They really came through, ran really well. Kiger’s lifelong goal was to break 17 minutes, and he did that.”
Jaxson Jensen, who finished 11th, was also a standout.
“I gotta give him props,” Johnson said. “He split his time between soccer and cross country. Soccer is a rough sport, and there’s been a couple of practices where he’s hurting through soccer games. He had a great second half of the race and came through.”
Johnson added, “It was a team effort, and that’s what it takes on a day like that.”
For the OSAA State Championship, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, four Siuslaw runners will be competing for individual titles including Rannow, Colton, Jensen and Ulrich.
As for the teams, the girls’ race will again be a match-up between the Viks and Marist.
“Marist is the defending champions, and I’m sure they’re angry and frustrated and looking for some revenge. We’re expecting that,” Johnson said.
For the boys, the field will be a little more open.
“There’s several teams that can win,” Johnson said. “Baker, Siuslaw, Marist, Newport, Philomath, Sisters — all those teams are solid and have a chance to win. It’ll be a dog fight.”
Still, Johnson likes the chances for both teams to come out on top.
“It’s always difficult to win a state championship. It’s never easy, no matter what anybody thinks. People don’t know what goes into it. But we have a pattern and a formula — and we’re going to play our game and go from there.”