Takeaways from the OSAA cross country championships

First, a nod to the north, where Andrew Gardner of Mead won the Class 4A Washington cross country title in 15:02 and Amy-Eloise Neale won the Class 3A girls crown with 17:03.

Both are instant favorites to win at BorderClash and probably NXN Regionals, too, if that’s the route they choose.

I bring them up for the sake of reference and perspective, but I thought Saturday’s Oregon cross country meet at Lane Community College indicated some good things are happening here, too.

Running in nearly ideal weather conditions the state’s top programs all enjoyed moments, literally, in the sun. Union. Siuslaw. Summit. Hermiston. La Salle. Central Catholic. South Eugene. Jesuit. Grant. St. Mary’s.

More on Grant in a second. That one hits home for me personally.

I covered the meet for the Salem Statesman Journal, highlighting as well as I could the best of what happened for that paper’s readers.

But the first athlete I talked to was Class 3A/2A/1A boys winner Nick Obletz from Oregon Episcopal School, and it made me wish I was writing about him.

“I’m really thankful I was able to go and see (Galen Rupp) in London this summer,” Obletz said. “I have to thank my parents for that one. I got to watch the 5(k) and the 10(k) and some of the other distance races and used that for inspiration (for the fall).”

Wow.

“When Mo was on his victory lap for the 10,000 he actually stopped and signed my ticket and gave me a handshake,” he said. “I have (the ticket) framed at home. It’s really awesome.”

In eight races Saturday, only one of the five returning champions held on to their individual title. That was Summit’s Travis Neuman, who won the 5A boys titles for the second straight time and ran faster than the 6A winner for the second year in a row as well. The 15:29 that Neuman posted was the fastest time recorded at the state meet since Rupp tore through the course in 14:55 in 2003.

Neuman spent a week of the summer running at 9,000 feet elevation in Colorado with the Brad Hudson group and his older brother, Kenyon.

“It helped quite a bit, actually,” Neuman said. “It’s not too hard to get better when you’re running with such a concentrated group of guys. It helped. I got around away from the usual trails around Bend and spent the time focused on training and getting better.”

In Neuman, Oregon may have a contender for Foot Locker. But first, he will travel to NXN regionals and try to help the Summit boys qualify for nationals.

I was on the rim of the south bowl at LCC, waiting to slip up into an media work space, when I paused to listen to the announcement of the 6A girls team results. It was very tight. And sure, I was pulling for Grant, my alma mater. The coach, Doug Winn, was my high school English teacher.

And the team performed exceptionally. Parkes Kendrick and Ella Donaghu, at third and fourth, ran 17:58 and 18:01 for the Generals. That’s a 1-2 punch that’s never occurred at the state meet before.

I hope the Grant girls understand the historic nature of their achievement. They are the first Portland Public School to win the girls team title since 1978. And they are the first Grant team to win it since 1974, when Elaine Pond led the school to the very first girls state championship.

Grant’s scoring five went 17:58, 18:01, 18:44, 19:41 and 20:15.

“It was a true team effort,” Winn wrote in an email. “Every girl ran to her potential.”

And it was very close, which is fitting because it was a very competitive race — probably the best in state meet history on the girls side. Grant 66, St. Mary’s 68, Jesuit 76, Sunset 82, South Eugene 95.

The quality of girls distance running at the state is as high as it’s been in a long time, with Sara Tsai’s victory in 17:42 the fastest at the meet since Jesuit’s Melissa Lucas in 1993 (17:34.9).

Congratulations are also in order to Central Catholic, which came of age on Saturday with a young group and won its sixth state championship in 10 years. It was also a remarkable effort by Sheldon’s Jackson Darland, who beat not only the defending champion (Kyle Thompson of Central Catholic) but also the reigning Class 6A 3,000-meter champion (Dan Oekerman of Beaverton).

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