Union cross country runners McKenzie Evans and Katriel O’Reilly (pictured) have helped the Bobcats to back-to-back state titles the past two seasons. They’ll be going for a three-peat Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene.
Friendship helps Union vie for another state title
Union residents don’t know what they almost missed out on. The dynasty that is Bobcat girls cross country, nine state titles, and counting, almost never hit another upward cycle due to a lack of loving the sport.
McKenzie Evans gave cross country one practice, but then called it quits.
“I don’t know what it was exactly,” Evans said. “I just didn’t want to do it, so I played volleyball.”
Then the winter of her freshman year, Evans beat out one of the boys during PE class. At the urging of her coaches, Evans gave cross country another attempt.
“The high school track coach really wanted me to give it a try,” Evans said. “I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to though.”
It took a little more prodding to get her running again.
Her mother, Annette, and Athletic Director Teresa Stratton encouraged her to run her sophomore season. Evans did. Stratton told her to write a note that said, “I love cross country” and look at it after her sophomore season.
Evans looked at the paper after finishing third overall at the state meet as a sophomore, and the rest has been history.
Evans quickly bonded with another Union sophomore, Katriel O’Reilly, and the two hit it off.
“I knew her a little bit from playing basketball,” O’Reilly said. “But once we started running together, we became really good friends. It’s amazing having someone that can push you to do more. That’s what we do for each other.”
Union has brought home back-to-back state cross country titles, winning the last two years at the state meet held at Lane Community College in Eugene, with Evans and O’Reilly leading the way.
“I’m a very lucky coach,” Bobcats cross country coach Steve Sheehy said. “I’ve never coached a pair with the talent and work ethic that these two have. Also, I’ve never seen it on another team. It’s something to have one or the other, but when you find an athlete with talent who is willing to work hard, it’s amazing. And, I have two of them.”
Evans blazed the trail to a new accomplishment for Union this season. The senior won the Bob Firman Invitational, in Boise, Idaho, the first Bobcat to bring home that accomplishment. Evans beat out a field of 149 runners with a time of 19 minutes, 30.76 seconds.
It was also the first time that Union won the team title, beating out 19 other schools with a team score of 66. The second-place team, Preston, Idaho, scored 77 points.
Evans and O’Reilly logged 350 miles together over the summer, preparing for their final high school season.
“We want to keep getting better,” Evans said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. This is an awesome team, and we’ve all worked hard to try and achieve our goals for this season.”
Through the season, O’Reilly has placed higher than Evans with one race left to go.
“We’re competitive,” O’Reilly said. “Once we’re at the start line we know what the goal is. But, we don’t get caught up in numbers. We just look at the next race. That’s not to say we don’t make a few jokes here and there about beating each other.”
The Bobcats will be chasing their third straight state title Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene.
“I like our chances,” Sheehy said. “I don’t like to predict things.
“You never know what could happen out on the course.”