A season-ending 6A cross country meet appears to be coming to fruition.
Coaches Eric Dettman of Lincoln and Thor Esbensen of Wilson are the catalysts behind a plan to bring the top 6A runners together for a meet at Rose City Golf Course in Portland on April 10.
“We're super excited about it,” Dettman said. “It's the heavy hitters of Oregon.”
Many 6A teams have been limited by district travel restrictions this season, but Dettman said that schools in Salem and southern Oregon have received the green light for the meet, and schools in Eugene are working on gaining permission.
“Summit is the only school that's having a little bit of travel issues,” Dettman said of the Storm, who have won 12 consecutive girls state titles, 10 in 5A and the last two in 6A. “So we might turn it into a quote-unquote club championship, but I don't think we're going to do that, because we want it to be a high school meet.”
Dettman said that a group of 6A coaches will finalize the field. At this point, the plan is to invite 12 teams and 20 individual qualifiers in order to stay under the gathering-size limit of 150.
“Qualifying is the tricky piece because some districts are running a district championship and some aren't,” Dettman said. “A lot of it is just going to be based on athletic.net hypotheticals. Honestly, at this point it's been pretty easy to take a look and see who should be there. There's a pretty big cutoff.”
Ashland and Crater, two of the state's top 5A programs, have expressed a desire to participate, and although organizers have yet to decide, at this point they are more inclined to keep it a 6A meet, according to Dettman.
The girls race is scheduled for 2 p.m., followed by the boys at 3 p.m. Athletic Timing will work the meet, which will be the first cross country event at Rose City.
“Some of the PIL schools have tried to get in there before,” Dettman said of Rose City. “Luckily, we had a contact who was able to make that happen for us. Our long-term goal is to try to make it an invitational that happens every year. We started talking to them about that, and they're on board with that idea.”
Organizers do not plan to allow spectators into the meet to ensure that they can allow as many athletes and officials as they need. Fans can have a good view of nearly the entire course from a nearby bluff.
“That bluff is awesome,” Dettman said. “It goes a great job of overseeing holes 1, 2 and 3, which is where the majority of the course will be.”
Primed for breakout
Columbia Christian junior Makena Houston has made dramatic gains in the past year and a half – hinting that she might belong among the state's elite runners – but she hasn't had a chance to show it.
Following the cancellation of her sophomore track season, Houston has not competed in a cross country meet as a junior. She will finally get to race March 30 in the 3A/2A/1A Special District 1 meet in Beaverton.
“As far as finding meets, it was really rough this year,” Columbia Christian coach Kevin Yaws said. “I have her on her own workouts because she's mainly doing distance learning. The first time I'll see how she's doing will be at districts.”
In October, Houston clocked 16:58.4 in a virtual meet, a time that would put her among the best in the state. It represented a huge improvement from her sophomore season, when she ran 20:40.6 and was 10th in her district meet.
Yaws said Houston has come a long way since she last competed and is beginning to unlock her vast potential.
“It took a little coaxing to get her to realize her possibilities,” Yaws said. “She had to believe in herself. She really didn't start believing in herself until track season, and we ended up closing down. She just didn't know how fast she is.”
Houston demonstrated that speed in a virtual track meet in August by recording 9:52.8 in the 3,000 meters, a time that is 30 seconds faster than the 2A meet record of 10:22.25 (Sailor Hutton, Bandon, 2015). The effort smashed her previous best of 12:45.53 as a freshman, when she finished fourth in the 2A Special District 1 meet.
Yaws said the hand-timed performance was legitimate, and consistent with Houston's early track workouts last year, when she was running near 10:00 in the 3,000 and about 4:50 in the 1,500.
“She puts her head to it, she's a 9:30, 9:25,” Yaws said. “She has that kind of speed if she keeps her head in the game.”
Yaws said he has encouraged Houston to embrace competing against top runners and won't credit her with a school record unless she does it in a meet. Yaws did not try to enter Houston in 2A meets this season.
“I told her, 'Don't settle for 1A, 2A. You're well above 6A,'” Yaws said. “She's very capable of well under 16. It's just keeping her healthy and keeping her mind in the right place.
“Things could get real exciting in the next year and a half. Hopefully we can get her into some good invitationals. I'm real interested to see what's going to happen this spring.”
Two of the state's top 6A boys programs went head-to-head last week at Tualatin Hills Recreation Center, with Jesuit outscoring Central Catholic 22-37.
Central Catholic sophomore Wesley Shipsey took individual honors, however, winning in 15:12.8, a 20-second personal best. He edged Jesuit senior Jack Bennett (15:13.9), who recorded a 30-second personal best.
Jesuit sophomore Jacob Nenow (15:19.5) and junior Caden Hildenbrand (15:24.6) were next, with Central Catholic junior Max Girardet (15:26.7) rounding out the top five.
Jesuit's girls dominated the Rams 16-47 behind junior Chloe Foerster, who ran 16:53.0 to win by more than two minutes. Foerster was fourth in the 6A meet as a sophomore.