October 26, 2003 11:00 pm
Ezra Axelrod and his La Grande High School cross country teammates are headed to state. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
Ezra Axelrod and his La Grande High School cross country teammates are headed to state. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande cross country boys blew away the rest of the Greater Oregon District Saturday thanks to a two-three-four finish by Dane Johnson, Leif Bullock and Travis Dixon.

La Grande dominated the district meet as a team and will be sending a group of seven boys to state for the second straight year. They will be joined at Lane Community College in Eugene Saturday by a La Grande girls' team.

La Grande hasn't had a full girls' team much of the season, but several soccer players joined the team to help the girls make it to state. They qualified as the No. 2 district seed to state, behind defending 3A state champion Baker.

The girls' second-place finish was in limbo for several hours Saturday because Vale appealed the results to the Oregon State Activities Association, saying that some La Grande girls were wearing jewelry and should be disqualified. The OSAA upheld the results of the race late Saturday.

Coach Duane Smiley said these are the best teams he has ever coached, and he was proud of the effort made by both the boys and the girls. He said the girls put together several personal best times to qualify for state. "They ran their guts out," he said. "Every one of them P.R.'d."

Kirsten Johnson finished second at district, with Jessica Fulfer third. Kayla Arritola finished eighth, even though it was only her second race of the year.

Other newcomers who helped the girls were Ellen Barlow (15th) and Crystal Kevan (16th). Mae Lee Morris finished 19th, and Smiley said it was her best time of the year by more than a minute.

Smiley believes the La Grande boys have a solid chance at a possible top-5 finish at state. La Grande finished ninth at state last year, but appears stronger this season.

Placing high at state has been on the boys' minds all year, said Johnson.

"That's been the goal since the start of the season, in fact. We're faster than we were last year."

He said he was happy that the La Grande boys ran strong as a group. In addition to Bullock and Dixon finishing right behind Johnson, Jake Moncrieff came in ninth.

"That was nice to run together as a group," said Johnson.

Dixon had a spirited sprint with Bullock down the home stretch and was nipped right at the finish line. Dixon said the boys are extremely motivated and went into this race with the goal they have all year, which "is to kill our competition by a lot, no matter what we do individually."

Dixon also talked about a top 5 finish or better at state. "We're shooting for it, if we can pull it together mentally."

Johnson ran a solid race, finishing in 16:55. However, Ontario's Riley Frisby had an unreal effort, winning in 16:16, which might be a state championship time if he can do that again in Eugene Saturday.

Greater Oregon District


Team results

1, La Grande, 36; 2, Vale, 59; 3, Ontario, 71; 4, Baker, 82; 5, Burns, 95.

Individual results

1, Riley Frisby, Ontario, 16:16; 2, Dane Johnson, 16:55; 3, Leif Bullock, 17:13; 4, Travis Dixon, 17:14; 9, Jake Moncrieff, 17:51; 18, Kyle Troutman, 18:53; 26, Ezra Axelrod, 19:29; 28, Johnny Bullock, 19:36.


Team results

1, Sheryl Page, 19:35; 2, Kirsten Johnson, 20:29; 3, Jessica Fulfer, 20:38; 8, Kayla Arritola, 21:45; 15, Ellen Barlow, 22:44; 16, Crystal Kevan, 22:47; 19, Mae Lee Morris, 23:02.