Viks XC champs at Champs Invite

“He’s motivated and he’s running really hard,” said Siuslaw Coach Chris Johnson of senior Jacob Blankenship (right). “He’s giving us a third person who has the capability to finish in the top 10 of races.” Blankenship ran one of his best races of the year at the Champs Invite on Sept. 23, where he finished 11th. Photo by Zac Burtt/Siuslaw News

SHS introduces themselves to 3A/2A/1A with team title sweep

 Sept. 27, 2022 — With their biggest home meet looming this weekend, both Siuslaw cross country teams are accelerating the pace, both on the track and in their pursuit of another state title.

The Vikings traveled to beautiful Cheadle Lake Park near Lebanon on Sept. 23 for the fifth annual Champs Invite. Both the boys and girls team finished at the top of the standings and many individual runners in blue and gold had great performances also.

After decades running against the Marshfield, Marist, Phoenix and Hidden Valleys of the world in 4A, this year the Siuslaw boys team will join the 3A classification and the girls 3A/2A/1A. This meet featured five teams from the 3A Boys Preseason Top 10 (#1 SHS, #2 Santiam Christian, #5 Westside Christian, #6 Sisters and #8 Oregon Episcopal) and five teams from the 3A/2A/1A Girls Preseason Top 10 (#1 SHS, #3 Bandon, #6 Vernonia, #8 Sisters and #10 Oregon Episcopal). This strong competition gave Siuslaw a taste of what they will face at the state meet in November.

All the new coaches and school colors created an interesting experience for Viking Coach Chris Johnson, who has led Siuslaw against the same 4A teams since he took over at the helm of the program in late ‘90s.

“It’s mind blowing,” said Johnson. “There are different uniforms. I don’t know the coaches in this classification. Not bad. Just surreal. Normally I watch a meet and know how we’re doing, but there was so much I didn’t recognize, which was weird. I thought we had comfortable wins on both sides until I looked at the leaderboard and saw there were actually some teams that were close to us. It was nice to compete against those teams on a fair, fairly flat course.”

The Viking girls were led by a freshman. Allison Hughes (20:58.7) ran the fastest 5000m of her short high school career to lead Siuslaw and finish 9th overall.

“I have to give Allison credit,” said Johnson. “I told her, ‘You need to be one of our top people,’ and she said ‘Okay.’ So far, she’s responded, and she’s been great.”

Next, just a few seconds behind in 10th, was junior Corduroy Holbrook (21:05.33).

“Corduroy has been unbelievable this year,” commented Johnson. “Her maturity from middle of last year till now has been incredible. She’s set the tone for us.”

Sophomore Addison McNeil (21:49.13) crossed the finish line less than three-quarters of a minute later for 15th.

“Addison has been a little banged up, but we are excited to see her starting to come back,” said Johnson.

Right behind her was junior Jane Lacouture (22:10.56) in 19th.

Another freshmen phenom, and sister of Corduroy, Adylin Holbrook (22:40.31) was 25th for the Vikings.

Rounding things out, the list of finishers for the fastest team at the meet were sophomore Maya Wells (30th, 23:02.55), freshman Abigail Jones (33rd, 23:12.82) and sophomore Macy McNeil (34th, 23:13.74).

This balanced team attack is exactly what Johnson sees as his squad’s biggest strength this season.

“I don’t think our girls team is going to be a team that’s going to win or lose because we have kids in the top one or two at state,” said Johnson. “There’s some great girls at the 3A level and a lot of those girls were there [at the Champs Invite] on Friday, but we’re just really deep.”

East Linn Christian’s Daisy Lalonde, a sophomore, won the race in 19:07.58. Another sophomore, this one Lauren Tittel of Oregon Episcopal, was second when she finished in 19:24.38. Lalonde and Tittel represent some of the new but strong competition Viking girl athletes can expect to face at top cross country and track meets for the next three years.

The Siuslaw girls won the event with 63 team points. The Oregon Episcopal School Aardvarks took the second spot with 77. A familiar foe from the coast, the Bandon Tigers, were third at the meet with 111.

Opposite of the young but fast-improving Viking girls team, the Viking boys team is led by three seniors — all who have been working towards this, their final season running trails as members of this prestigious program.

The first of the three to cross the finish line at the Champs Invite was Sam Ulrich (16:50.08), who finished 4th. Kyle Hughes (17:08.20) was 7th.

Rounding out the senior triple threat is Jacob Blankenship. He finished 11th in 17:44 and is fast becoming one of the top runners on the team.

“I think one of the real stories this year has been Jacob Blankenship,” Johnson said. “Jake, starting during last year’s track season, is just looking different. He has a different set of expectations for himself. He’s motivated and he’s running really hard. He’s giving us a third person who has the capability to finish in the top 10 of races.”

A little over 20 seconds later, junior Dylan Jensen (13th, 16:08.82) crossed the finish line. Johnson thinks he too has the ability to place in the top 10 of races he competes in.

“Dylan and Braydon [Linton] are also people who can finish top 10,” said Johnson. “We’re fairly deep.”

Two freshmen with older brothers on the team rounded out the finishers for SHS. Camden Linton (19:02.62) was 34th and Kale Jensen (19:59.40) was 56th.

The individual standings on the boys side were dominated by runners in their last year competing in high school events. Eleven of the top 12 in the boys standings were seniors, including the three from Siuslaw.

The winner of the boys race was Benjamin Bourne (16:09.15). He runs for Santiam Christian, of Adair Village, the team that figures to be the Vikings’ top competition in the 3A classification. The Eagles had three runners in the top 20 at this event.

Olin Gilster (16:11.33) was second. Gilster runs for Oregon Episcopal, another top 3A team.

The Viks barely edged Santiam Christian at this event, 61-65. Oregon Episcopal was third with 89 points followed by Sisters with 111.

Next up for Siuslaw is their annual home meet, the Woahink Lake Invitational.

Over 30 years ago, then Viking cross country Coach Gary Giddens started this event south of Florence. The course was mapped out by Katherine Hinman. 

“There have been very few changes from the course Kathrine developed many years ago,” said Johnson. “It’s pretty interesting to me that teams want to keep coming here. Though it’s a beautiful park and a great place, it can be a little challenging. It starts out pretty wide open but ends up going to single-track trails, so it gets really tough to pass. We tell people to keep in mind when we have 25 teams on the course it can be tough to navigate.”

The Woahink Lake Invitational is the best chance for local cross country fans to see Siuslaw compete against some top teams at a beautiful location. The course runs through open park, dirt trails, two paved bridges, a campground and even over a hay bale or two.

“It’s a fun course to race,” says Johnson. “It’s not fast but has many different stages. Goes from single-track trail, then down some stairs, then over water. … Visiting teams love it, plus we always race well at home. It’s nice to have a big invitational at home. Kids they go to school with get to see them race for the first time. We always look forward to putting it on.”

The Woahink Lake Invitational starts and finishes at the East Woahink Lake Day-Use Area. The course winds through the trails surrounding Woahink Lake.

The event starts with the junior varsity boys race at 11:45 a.m. followed by varsity girls at 12:30 p.m. then varsity boys at 1:15 and finally junior varsity girls at 1:45 p.m. An awards ceremony will follow at 2:30 p.m.