Local prep harriers among state's best
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
Perhaps it filters down from Eastern Oregon University.
Not only is the university's cross country team powerful, the high schools in Eastern Oregon are known for having elite cross country programs.
The Union girls won the 1A/2A state championship last year, while the Enterprise boys came in second and the La Grande boys finished in the state 3A top 10 for the first time in recent memory.
All three schools appear to have programs this fall just as strong than last year.
The La Grande boys finished ninth in the state last year, and in a 3A coaches' poll released last week, the boys were picked seventh.
Coach Duane Smiley believes this could be the most successful team ever for La Grande.
"If they run to their potential, they could be a top three or top five," he said. "I'm real excited. These are good kids. They all work hard and want to do well."
He said the boys have three solid runners Â— Dane Johnson, Travis Dixon and Leif Bullock Â— but the Tigers are looking to "close the gap" between the No. 3 and No. 4 runners. Smiley is excited about a new team member, Jake Moncrieff, who could bridge that gap.
Johnson finished fifth in the state last year, while Dixon was 14th and Bullock 42nd.
Other boys are Drew Kelly, Ezra Axelrod, Ben Woodruff and Johnny Bullock.
The La Grande girls don't have a full team, but the Tigers do have some good girl runners.
Kirsten Johnson, a soccer player, came in third behind two extremely good runners at the recent Catherine Creek Scramble. Smiley thinks she has the potential to do even better.
"She only had one practice and she came in third," he said.
Jessica Fulfer, a solid veteran, is back this year. A freshman, Mae Lee Morris, rounds out the team.
The Union girls won their second straight state championship last year and their sixth since 1992.
Might it be three in a row? Coach Steve Sheehy said the Union kids don't like to look that far ahead, but he is confident Union has strong boys and girls' teams.
Returning for the girls are Shannon Mitchell and Ashley Sharratt, who finished fifth and seventh at state, respectively, last year. Joining them are Kara Baxter and Krystal Papineau, who both finished in the top 50 at state last year.
"They're looking, really, really good," said Sheehy. "I'm very happy with how hard they work. Those girls are talented, but they work hard, too."
Union would be strong, anyway, but the Bobcats got a lot stronger when Shauna Nelson of Powder Valley joined the team. Nelson is a state champion in the 1A 800-meter run.
"She's a huge boost to us. We might as well say it Â— we're a good team. She (Nelson) takes us back to the level of where we were last year," Sheehy said.
Also on the Union girls' team are Sarah House, Cecelia Hesse, Larne Sheehy, Rebecca Colton and Sabine Franke, a German exchange student.
Back for the Union boys are Billy Garrison and Klamath Walker, who finished 20th and 26th at state last year. Brennan Sheehy is another strong runner on the team. Rounding out the team are Bryan Hesse, Marc Valdez and Michael McCrae.
Enterprise has one of the top cross country programs around with nine straight years of the boys finishing anywhere from first to fourth at state.
Last year, the Enterprise boys finished second at the 1A/2A meet. Enterprise graduated two good runners from last year, Austin Himes and Willie Grover, but is bringing back four top finishers from state.
Coach Dan Moody said a foundation was laid many years ago for a successful program at Enterprise and the school continues to turn out solid athletes in its cross country program.
"I'm very fortunate the type of kids I've got," Moody said. "This is a fantastic group of kids."
Moody said the goal each year is that state title.
"We always start slowly. (But) I know their potential. I think they can be at the top of it," by the end of the season, said Moody.
Returning for the boys are Chris Lozier, Andy Vernarsky, Andrew Gorbett and Michael Swart. All four finished among the top 51 at state last year.
Swart served notice he may be stronger than ever, finishing first of all the 1A/2A runners at the recent Catherine Creek Scramble.
Other boys on the team are Josh Rhodes, Nathan Slinker and Derek Huff.
Krista Stangel, a track runner who finished seventh at state last year in the 3,000 meters, was a pleasant surprise for Enterprise at Catherine Creek, coming in fourth against some incredibly strong competition. Moody said she is going to be a tremendous asset to the team.
Other girls on the team are Julie Vernarsky, last year's top girl runner at state (31st), Linnaea Kibler, Whitney Locke and Nicole Anderson (45th at state last year).
First of all, there's a lot more to Wallowa than super-soph Hayley Oveson.
As a freshman, Oveson came in second at the 1A/2A meet, then won the 1,500 and 3,000-meter races at the 1A state meet in the spring, with both finishes in record time.
Oveson started off this fall right where she left off, shattering the old Catherine Creek girls' record by more than 20 seconds.
But, one of the things coach Jesse Turner is most impressed with about Oveson is that she isn't interested in the spotlight, and despite being a sophomore, she is already a team leader.
"She looks out for the team. I really do admire her humility," Turner said.
The rest of the Wallowa girls' team is young, but Turner said he likes having a lot of new blood on the team. Freshman Victoria Silveira had a very good showing at Catherine Creek. "She's running very strong now that she knows she can do it," Turner said.
Samantha Silveira is coming back from a twisted ankle, but is looking good, said Turner, while Deena Tsiatsos and Caitlin Turner also had solid showings at Catherine Creek.
Leading the way for the boys is Brandon Casper, and returning is a senior track runner, Nick Johnson, second in the state last spring in the 800.
Johnson wasn't able to run in cross country last year because of a broken ankle. "It's hindered him a bit. He shooting for returning to his sophomore season," said Turner.
Also running for the boys are Chris Tsiatsos, Dan Eagan, Caleb Pringle, Lee Phelps, Tanner Beglau, Samuel Brainard and Riley Wortman.
Joseph has a young team led by Kyle Clough, who finished 14th at state last year in the 3,000 meters. Other boys on the team are Derek Layton, Kevin Ryan, Seth Watson, Julian Moro and a German exchange student Malte Sievers.
Erica Howerton is the girls' team for Joseph.
Coach John Moro is working on getting the team to peak at district. He isn't predicting that the Joseph runners will win district, but he thinks they'll surprise some people. "They'll upset somebody," he said.
Moro said he is working on his runners' conditioning and getting them to understand that to be successful, his runners cannot take the summer off. He said what's great about cross country is that, "it teaches what it is to have the discipline to be an athlete. You have to run every day."