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Union cross country coach Steve Sheehy tells his runners to do their best before a recent Catherine Creek Scamper race. (Observer file photo)
Union coach snags awards from Oregon, regional coaches for building a dominant small school cross country program
UNION — Forget Hayward Field. The Men of Bowerman.
One local coach has made such an impact on the much smaller, more rural tableau of Union County.
Steve Sheehy was selected recently as the best cross country coach in the state — twice.
He was named as the 3A/2A/1A cross country coach of the year — for the boys team and the girls team.
The Oregon Athletic Coaches Association held its annual awards banquet May 25 at Autzen Stadium.
But the Union coach didn’t just pick up some recognition from his fellow Oregon coaches.
He also was named by the National Federation of State High School Associations as the coach of the year for Region 8 — which includes Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“I am very honored to have Steve Sheehy on our coaching staff,” Union Athletic Director Teresa Stratton said. “Steve is good for kids. He has a way of bringing out the best in them. I knew it was only a matter of time until Steve would be named Region 8 coach of the year.”
According to Sheehy, the girls started the juggernaut really rolling more than a year ago.
In the fall of 2011, three Union/Cove runners placed in the top 13 at the state meet, helping the Lady Cats easily win the Oregon title by more than 40 points.
Then-sophomores Katriel O’Reilly and McKenzie Evans placed second and third, while freshman Stormy Bullard was 13th.
Fast forward to November and the Lady Cats were at it again. Union/Cove won the girls crown again.
O’Reilly and Evans took the top two places in the 3A/2A/1A title race at Lane Community College and led Union to a 29-point win — the school’s second in a row.
O’Reilly won the race in 19:16, while Evans was 17 seconds back.
“It’s the first time we have had a sweep of the top two individual spots, and the first time we have ever had a girls individual champion,” coach Sheehy said.
The final mile was the key and the depth of the Lady Cats came through for Union/Cove, according to Sheehy.
“We beat a very, very good team from Valley Catholic in Beaverton to get our second straight state girls title.
“I think how these girls ran that last mile shows their heart. They really wanted that championship.”
The only problem that the rest of the state may have with Union is they only had one senior this year, so Sheehy has almost the entire team returning next fall.
The boys squad also picked up a victory in November — by one point — over favored East Linn Christian.
Union finished with 93 points. East Linn Christian had 94 points.
Neither team had a finisher in the top five runners, but it was the team depth that became the battleground that decided the race.
“It was our boys’ fifth state championship with the previous ones coming in 1978, 1997, 2007 and 2008,” coach Sheehy said after the victory.
It was such a close race that the score could have been easily reversed if any of the Union/Cove runners had been passed, Sheehy said.
“We were very fortunate to win. It was quite a sight, and I’m very happy for them.”