PORTLAND -- Jesuit's cross country team competed in its only home meet this season Wednesday, posting convincing victories in the girls and boys over visiting Sunset and Mountainside.
The Crusaders were coming off a big effort in Saturday’s Ash Creek XC Festival, where the boys team was victorious and the girls placed a close second to Summit.
“We were just excited to get the chance to go out there and compete,” Jesuit coach Tom Rothenberger said of running in the first real meet since COVID. “This group of kids have stayed very engaged since June of 2020, and made a commitment to each other that they were going to meet each day and work out, and they have done that.”
At Ash Creek, the Jesuit boys placed five runners in the top 17 -- with a 41-second gap -- to easily outdistance runner-up Lincoln 40-77. Junior Jacob Nenow led the way in second place overall in 15:07.20.
Rothenberger has high hopes for this group.
“Our boys are just trying to find ourselves,” Rothenberger said. “We know we have seven and we know we can contend for a state title and a regional berth to Nike nationals. It was good for us to get out there and find out where we are at. The kids are strong, we just haven’t done anything fast yet.”
Jesuit placed seven runners in the top nine Wednesday, but Sunset senior Benjamin Balazs broke free midway through the race and was never seriously challenged in picking up the individual victory in 15:11.02. Nenow finished second in 15:21.39 and Jesuit senior John Schuler was third in 15:28.59. Jesuit scored 21 points to easily outdistance Sunset (40) and Mountainside (81).
At Ash Creek, the Crusader girls placed a close second to Summit, 43-47, and senior Chloe Foerster crushed the course record by more than 20 seconds in 17:24.50. Foerster is coming off a track season where she ran the second fastest times in Oregon history for 800-meters (2:05.27) and 1,500 (4:20.42).
“We just wanted to see where we are at -- I’m very pleased with it,” Rothenberger said. “For us to go against Summit, who is ranked No. 4 in the U.S., and take them to four points, we feel pretty good about that."
Rothenberger said his girls team is "extremely young."
“We have a few girls that have competed at Nike cross nationals, but we have a plethora of young girls -- freshmen and sophomores who ran their first high school cross country race," he said. "We have a talented and experienced leader in Chloe Foerster, one of the best distance runners in Oregon history.”
Rothenberger credited Foerster and fellow senior Claire Cooney with building a culture with their young teammates.
“We probably have 12 girls, from those 12 we will find our top seven,” Rothenberger said. “It’s critical that all 12 girls feel engaged, and Chloe and Claire have done a good job of that. Even through this COVID thing, Claire put together a beach retreat, where they spent time together.”
Said Foerster: “It’s been really fun to bring back the old traditions we had that didn’t really get to stick around during COVID. Like team dinners we have been able to plan again outside and just bring a lot of the fun back into the meets and training.”
Foerster has embraced being a senior leader for her younger teammates.
“I’m really trying to push our girls to see what we can do this season, because I think we have a lot of potential,” Foerster said. “It’s really exciting to be working with them and be leading that effort.”
On Wednesday, Jesuit ran as a pack for the first two miles, allowing Sunset junior Paige Wiley to open up a 15-second gap. When Foerster was allowed to run free, she tracked Wiley down and ran away to a 30-second victory in 17:50.11.
“Today, she ran with her teammates to try to help those girls along,” Rothenberger said. “She was champing at the bit and I said I will tell you when to go. At two miles I said, ‘Go get 'em,' and you saw what happened.”
“It was super fun,” Foerster said. “This is the last time I run at the Jesuit course, so it was just nice to get out there. This course is always my favorite. We had a game plan of me helping pace the other girls out at a certain pace and then just get after it the last mile.”
Crusader freshman Emma Bennett also was able to catch Wiley at the line, finishing second in 18:20.02 to Wiley’s 18:20.52. Freshman Maura O’Scannlain was third in 18:43.14 and junior Natalie Jack was fourth in 18:55.91. Jesuit scored 19 points to defeat Sunset (50) and Mountainside (67).
Foerster said she was still feeling the hard effort from last Saturday during the race.
“There wasn’t a ton of recovery time and we did a long run workout on Monday, so the legs are a little tired,” Foerster said. “I’m just super happy to be back racing and I’m feeling pretty strong right now, super healthy, so that’s always good.”
Foerster has committed to run for the University of Washington next year. What made her choose the Huskies?
“I think for me, it was the coach Maurica Powell who really sold me,” Foerster said. “She is super excited and super knowledgeable. She is really connected with all the girls on the team. I really enjoyed spending time with my future teammates on my official visit. They all just seemed like the right people for me, to help push me.”
The Crusaders' next major focus will be travelling to Washington state on consecutive Saturdays in October for big invitationals.
“Our next real strong effort will be at the Curtis Invite on Oct. 2,” Rothenberger said. “Then we will go up to the Hole in the Wall the following week.”
Rothenberger said they do the back-to-back big meets during the season to replicate the end of season schedule, where the state meet is immediately followed by Nike regionals the following week.
At the 6A meet, Foerster will be facing two returning runners that placed ahead of her in 2019 in Lake Oswego junior Kate Peters and Summit senior Teaghan Knox.
“I’m super excited to compete against them,” Foerster said. “They are super strong girls and I think we all have a little bit different strengths, so I think it will be interesting how that race will play out. I really just want to show them what I got. I have been training pretty hard and I have been feeling fitter than I have the past couple years when I raced against them.”