After winning the NWOC district meet, Canby's MacKenzie Bigej will race in the 5A meet for the first time. (Photo by Bob Webber)
After winning the NWOC district meet, Canby's MacKenzie Bigej will race in the 5A meet for the first time. (Photo by Bob Webber)

For a part-time cross country runner, Canby junior MacKenzie Bigej is making her presence felt.

Bigej, who also plays soccer for the Cougars, cruised to an easy victory in the Northwest Oregon Conference district meet Oct. 25 at Champoeg State Park.

In only her third meet of the season, Bigej finished in 17:31.61 to win by more than one minute over La Salle Prep junior Maya Crimin (18:42.33). Bigej recorded the No. 4 time in the state this season and the No. 2 time in 5A, behind only Crescent Valley junior Emily Wisniewski (16:27.2).

Bigej did not run cross country as a freshman and competed in one regular-season meet as a sophomore. She has stood out in track, though, setting Canby school records in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters last season, when she finished third in both events at the 5A championships.

“She's certainly got the personality, confidence and competitiveness,” Canby coach Tom Millbrooke said. “She's just very gifted. She has both endurance and speed. I don't know if she developed all of that on the soccer field or from just being an athlete.

“She has the ability to run long and run fast. It's certainly unique to have somebody with that much talent.”

This fall, Bigej's primary commitment has been to soccer. She raced in the Ash Creek XC Festival at Western Oregon University on Sept. 9, finishing second to Wisniewski by 45 seconds, and won the Champoeg Invitational on Oct. 13 with a time of 17:37.7 at Champoeg State Park.

Bigej will get her first taste of the cross country state meet Saturday at Lane Community College. She will get another chance to race against Wisniewski, who won both distance races in the state rack meet last season and is a threat to break the state-meet course record Saturday.

Millbrooke said he is hoping that Bigej “can be a little closer” to Wisniewski than she was at Ash Creek.

“That's a heck of a challenge,” Millbrooke said. “But she's lucky that she does have somebody that's so good in front of her to show her what human beings are capable of.”

Throughout the season, Bigej has worked out with the cross country team occasionally on Sundays, according to Millbrooke.

“She trained running-wise through last winter even though she was on a club soccer team,” Millbrooke said. “And she was 100 percent in on track. She ran pretty regularly through the summer.”

Entering the cross country season, Bigej was ranked No. 93 in the nation by DyeStat.

“At that point in her life, she had only run one cross country meet,” Millbrooke said. “It was mainly off her 3,000s on the track.”

In the state track meet last season, Bigej ran personal bests of 9:42.42 in the 3,000 and 4:32.44 in the 1,500. A few weeks later in the Nike Outdoor Nationals, she showed her speed by taking seventh in the 800 in 2:13.87, ranking her No. 3 all-time at Canby.

Bigej has a good shot at recording the fastest time ever by a Canby runner at state. That distinction now belongs to Izabela Kacalek, who ran 18:25.2 in 2019 on a course later measured at 4,920 meters.

“I'll try to show her that before Saturday,” Millbrooke said. “I think she'll run faster than that.”

Huyler paces Lakeridge

Another soccer player, Lakeridge junior Chloe Huyler, won the Three Rivers League district title on Oct. 25 at Clackamas Community College.

Huyler, a transfer from Nevada, clocked 17:20.72 to finish far ahead of two Tualatin runners, senior Lauren Ayers (18:02.54) and freshman Lauren Gerlach (18:15.49). It was the fourth win in five races this season for Huyler.

Lakeridge, ranked third in the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll, outscored No. 4 Lake Oswego 32-54 to win the district title for the fourth year in a row. The Pacers got solid contributions from sophomore Grace Houlihan (sixth), senior Olivia Smith (seventh) and junior Hannah Huyler (eighth).

Lightning strikes

Franklin's boys came through with an impressive performance in a loaded 6A Portland Interscholastic League district meet Oct. 25 at Lents Park.

The second-ranked Lightning placed four runners in the top five to score 25 points, running away from No. 3 Wells (74) and No. 9 Grant (96).

After Wells senior Asher Danielson (15:06.2), Franklin held down the next four spots with juniors Brennan McEwen (15:17.2), Zafer Courcelle (15:34.0) and Leaf McQuillen (15:35.1) and senior Emil Nelson (15:36.2).

Valiant effort

Valley Catholic's top-ranked boys team bolstered its case as the 3A favorite in repeating as champion of Special District 1 on Oct. 24.

Competing on their campus, the Valiants convincingly defeated co-No. 2 Oregon Episcopal 36-57. Valley Catholic senior Morgan Amano, the district runner-up last year, won the race in 16:29.7, holding off Warrenton sophomore Jayden Werner (16:32.4).

The Valiants had two other top-10 finishers in senior Kyle Becker (eighth) and junior Silas Wade (10th). Oregon Episcopal's lead runner was sophomore Roman Gantzos (seventh).