Viks run away with Sky-Em titles

Members of the Siuslaw girls and boys cross country teams pose following their sweep of last week's sweep of the Sky-Em League district championship races. Both team will advance to this Saturday's state championships at Marist High School. (courtesy photo)

Both teams advance to state meet this weekend

Siuslaw’s cross country teams competed in the Sky-Em League district championships last Thursday at Marist High School, where both the boys and girls teams swept the respective races — qualifying them to advance to the 4A state championships this Saturday (April 10).

The girls finished with a combined score of 19 points, defeating second-place Marist with 36 points. The Lady Spartans was the only other school with a girls team to qualify.

In the boys race, the Viks finished with a near-perfect score of 16 points — well ahead of the rest of the league, including Marist (61), Marshfield (82), Junction City (97), Cottage Grove (146) and Elmira (148).

Siuslaw Athletic Director and cross country coach Chris Johnson acknowledged that his teams were fortunate compared to other schools who were not as prepared for the season due to various issues brought on by COVID-19.

“It's sort of a mixed bag,” said Johnson. “So many people are having such a hard time with the pandemic. And in the grand scheme of things, high school sports obviously isn’t a life or death situation. We’ve been pretty lucky — at least from November on — that we had 14 kids who were pretty consistent in terms of coming to train every day. But cross country is the kind of sport where you can't just be lucky. You have to work and train in order to be successful.”

Viking team members have been practicing at least six days a week since November, putting in the time and effort required to succeed in a sport where training is everything.

“I know we were prepared; I just don't feel like a lot of the other programs had the same sort of consistency that we had,” explained Johnson. “Not because it's their fault, it just felt like we were going into a situation where we were prepared and a lot of other people weren't able to be as prepared. So, you go and score 16 points and 19 points and you feel great and want to celebrate it. But at the same time, you sort of know that, because of what's been happening with the pandemic, maybe it's not a fair fight. We're obviously happy with what we did, and it's always fun to go and be dominant — but sometimes it felt like it was a gunfight and we were the only ones who had the guns.”

Johnson, while speaking humbly about his athletes, was very careful to note that even though Siuslaw may have had an advantage over other schools as far as training consistency this year, his teams absolutely deserved all of the accomplishments they achieved this season.

“I think that the kids on my team prioritized training during all this, and this sport rewards people who prioritize training, consistency and focus,” said Johnson. “We had five girls and nine boys who made it a priority to show up and practice every day when there were a lot of reasons maybe not to. It would’ve been easy to make excuses and find reasons not to train hard, but they trained hard anyway.”

Another factor to consider is that, in cross country, no matter how hard a team works throughout the season, until the district meet occurs there is no telling who will qualify for state.

According to Johnson, “There's always that trepidation of, ‘It looks like we're supposed to crush the competition at district and we have a chance to go to state next week and do pretty well,’ but we have to qualify first. So, it's like a pressure cooker. And I'll give the kids credit — they handled the pressure, and we qualified, so we live to fight another day.”

Each team had standout performances. The girls team had all five runners place in the top 10.

Rylee Colton, who placed second overall, came in first for the Vikings with a time of 20:06.4.

“Rylee just continues to keep improving and looks great,” said Johnson. “She's been good since she stepped onto the scene as a freshman, but she's just getting more and more mature as a racer, and she's going to be a force to reckon with next week.”

Colton was followed by Brea Blankenship in fifth place overall with a time of 21:21.0. The senior finished strong despite sustaining an injury during the race when she stepped into a whole and rolled her ankle.

“Brea looked great in practice all week and she looked great the first half of the race. I didn't talk to her after the race to find out what happened,” said Johnson. “Her ankle is a little bit swollen but Brea’s a competitor and she's tough. She'll pull herself together and she'll be ready to rock next week.”

Blankenship was followed by Gracie Freudenthal in seventh (22:14.9), Jane Lacouture in ninth (22:50.4), and Corduroy Holbrook in 10th place (23:10.6).

On the boys’ side, Siuslaw had six runners finish in the top 10, including five finishers among the top six.

First across the finish was Chad Hughes with a time of 17:10.6.

“Chad Hughes is just a great story,” said Johnson. “He was getting ready to run and he's like, ‘Last year, I wasn’t even running varsity at this thing!’ and then he went on to have a dominant performance.”

Following closely was Samuel Ulrich in second (17:30.4), Kyle Hughes in third (17:31.1) and Jaxson Jensen in fourth place (17:59.8). Brayden Linton finished sixth and Dylan Jensen finished ninth, with times of 18:14.8 and 18:45.5, respectively.

“Kyle Hughes had a great race, too,” said Johnson. “Ryan Jennings is banged up, which is really tough because he's been so great this year. We had to pull him out of the race halfway through, and he's been our third guy or fourth guy most of the year. But Brayden [Linton] really stepped up and had a fantastic race.”

This Saturday’s state championship meet was moved from Tillamook due to the latest state risk assessment. Instead, Siuslaw will compete at Marist High School once again, facing 24 other leagues in the 4A division, including Marist, who came in second at the Sky-Em district finals.

A total of 124 individual boys and 101 individual girls will compete Saturday.

The girls race begins at 11:15 a.m., followed by the boys race at noon.