Ella Thorsett of Sisters won the 4A cross country title as a freshman in 2019. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Ella Thorsett of Sisters won the 4A cross country title as a freshman in 2019. (Photo by Jon Olson)

The 2020 season was shaping up as a special one for the Sisters cross country team.

Not only would sophomore Ella Thorsett and senior John Peckham be defending their 4A titles, but the boys team, which finished as runner-up in 2019, was in prime position to chase the school's first cross country state championship.

Behind seniors Peckham, Will Thorsett, Ethan Hosang and Sam May, the Outlaws were “very optimistic” for the season, according to coach Josh Nordell. But the season got delayed and shortened by the COVID-19 crisis, and just before official practices began this year, Peckham slipped on ice during a training run and injured his knee.

Peckham has yet to compete this year for the Outlaws, who are preparing for the season-ending 4A meet at Marist Catholic on Saturday.

“We didn't think it was going to be as serious as it was,” Nordell said. “They still don't know exactly how long he's going to be out. He's starting to run just a little bit, but he's not going to run Saturday.

“It's unfortunate it worked out how it did for John. It's been hard to watch his senior year end up there.”

Peckham's injury is a difficult blow for a senior-led team that has had high aspirations since winning a district title in middle school.

“John, Will and Ethan are kind of a once-in-a-generation trio for Sisters,” Nordell said. “And Sam May is right there with them. That group of four, they've come up together. For them, I wish we had a season last fall. And there's nothing we can do about that.”

Still, the Outlaws are hopeful to make a strong bid in the 4A meet. In the Oregon West Conference meet April 3, they finished a respectable second to reigning 4A champion Philomath, 34-49.

Hosang, who was 19th at state last season, won the district meet by 40 seconds over Philomath sophomore Brody Bushnell. It marked another important step forward for Hosang, who ran 16:13.1 in March, taking more than 13 seconds off his personal best.

“It's really, really neat to see Ethan's journey,” Nordell said of Hosang, the son of Sisters principal Joe Hosang. “He's just stuck with it, really kept a positive attitude, and really come into his own.”

Sisters' other top boys finishers at district were Thorsett (third), May (sixth) and junior Max Palanuk (16th). Thorsett was third at state as a junior.

Ella Thorsett's winning time at district was 20:14.5, well off her best of 17:43.7 from her freshman season. In November, she ran 18:01.2 in a time trial at Hydrangea Ranch in Tillamook, and has been gradually building up for the 4A meet.

“She's been really consistent in her training, which has been really good to see,” Nordell said. “Her competitive drive is incredible. I'm really excited to see her run Saturday.”

Among Thorsett's challengers Saturday will be University of Oregon-bound Anika Thompson of Junction City. Thompson was the runner-up to Thorsett in 2019, finishing 21 seconds back.

Sisters outscored runner-up Philomath 40-55 to win the Oregon West meet. Aside from Thorsett, senior Pearl Gregg was fourth and juniors Brooklyn Liddell and Sasha Stolasz were 10th and 11th, respectively.

The Outlaws have the potential to sneak up on the top contenders Saturday.

“We're going to toe the line and keep track of the things we can control,” Nordell said. “We're going to put all our cards on the table. We're excited about the opportunity.”

Saturday will be only the fourth meet this season for Sisters. The Outlaws competed in two central Oregon meets that featured 6A teams, including state power Summit, before the Oregon West meet.

Rose City meet

Coaches in 6A aspired to put together their own season-ending meet for Saturday, but travel restrictions for schools in the Eugene and Bend areas made it impossible.

Still, the Rose City Championship Invite – set for Rose City Golf Course in Portland on Saturday – will bring together many of the best runners from 6A and a handful from 5A.

“We still think it's going to be a super high-level meet,” said Lincoln coach Eric Dettman, one of the organizers. “It'll be a really fun, competitive meet.”

The boys field will include reigning 6A champion Franklin and Central Catholic, which was fourth at state last season. Reigning 5A champion Ashland also will be on hand, along with 5A schools Crescent Valley and North Salem.

“They reached out,” Dettman said of the 5A schools. “Their ADs gave us a call and were like, 'Hey, we really want an opportunity for our kids. Would you be willing to let us in it?' We didn't want to say no, because we want to give those kids an opportunity.”

Among the 14 teams from 6A that will be represented, six are from the 6A Portland Interscholastic League.

Small schools

The state's small-school programs will gather for a season-ending meet Saturday at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon.

The Enterprise boys, who won the 3A title in 2019, have three of the top four ranked entries in juniors Zac Knapp, (second), Henry Coughlan (third) and Bayden Menton (fourth). Cascade Christian junior Jake Sorani has the No. 1 qualifying time of 15:22.4.

St. Stephen's Academy, the reigning 2A/1A champion, has five of the top 18 entries, led by junior Colin Friend (fourth). Pine Eagle junior Caleb Brown enters with the best time of 16:05.6.

Columbia Christian junior Makena Houston is the favorite in the 3A/2A/1A girls race with a qualifying time nearly two minutes faster than Lakeview senior Kaley Schneider. Reigning champion Burns is led by senior Riley Morris (10th).