McMinnville senior Zane Fodge is the top returning placer in 6A. (NW Sports Photography)
McMinnville senior Zane Fodge is the top returning placer in 6A. (NW Sports Photography)

Plagued by nagging shin pain for more than a year, McMinnville cross country standout Zane Fodge hasn’t been able to deliver on his vast potential.

He tried everything from acupuncture to physical therapy to address the issue, but the soreness lingered.

“We were fearful that he was developing a stress fracture,” McMinnville coach Vic Downs said of Fodge, last year’s 6A runner-up.

But since Fodge switched from a high-drop shoe to a low-drop shoe a month ago, the pain has subsided. He appears ready to finish his senior cross country season with a flourish, providing a glimpse of what could lie ahead Saturday when he ran his best 5,000-meter time in two years to finish runner-up in the prestigious Nike Portland XC Danner Championships at Portland Meadows.

“I haven’t felt that good about a race, in advance of a race, in a long time,” Fodge told DyeStat.

Downs called Fodge’s performance “awesome.”

“We were just waiting for this kind of opportunity to turn him loose,” McMinnville coach Vic Downs said. “He just felt great. It was a real shot in the arm. We’re pumped.”

Fodge finished in 15 minutes, 20.8 seconds to finish second to Gig Harbor (Wash.) senior Bradley Peloquin (15:06.5). It was Fodge’s fastest time since he clocked his personal best of 15:17.6 at the same meet two years ago.

Shin pain threw a wrench into Fodge’s junior season, forcing him to train on an elliptical in the garage of an assistant coach while the team practiced during the final month of the season. He did not compete for a month before making it back for the district and state meets, placing second in both.

“He was happy with that because he had to go through a lot to get there,” Downs said.

The soreness stayed with him through track season, when he finished third in the 1,500 and fifth in the 800 at the 6A meet, and into the summer. He consulted an expert, who recommended the low-drop shoe.

The drop of a shoe -- the difference between the height of the heel and toe – affects how the foot lands. With the high-drop shoe, Fodge was landing hard on his heel, causing him to raise his toe to resist and straining the interior part of the shin. With the low-drop shoe, his foot is landing more naturally.

“We tried just about everything, but that was the one thing we didn’t try,” Downs said. “Now he’s starting to feel really good. We’ve had some consistent training. We started cautiously with a 20-minute run, and we’ve built up gradually. Now he’s doing full workouts.”

Fodge, the top returning placer from last year’s 6A meet, has high expectations.

“I’ve always wanted a state title,” he told DyeStat. “That’s what I’m here to do. That’s the whole point of the season.”

Downs likes Fodge’s chances.

“You can’t ever count him out,” Downs said. “He’s a tough kid. We’re going to do everything we can to get Zane to the line healthy. If he’s healthy and he gets to the line, he’s pretty tough to beat. A state championship has eluded him, but we’re not taking it for granted that the door is wide open.”

Among the contenders is Forest Grove junior Quincy Norman, Fodge’s district rival. Norman beat Fodge by two seconds in last year’s district meet and placed a close third at state, matching Fodge’s time of 15:48.

Fodge and Norman will square off Friday in the Flat & Fast Invitational at Joe Dancer Park in McMinnville.

“We’re pretty excited about turning him loose on that course,” Downs said of Fodge. “Our goal is to break 15:10.”