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Apollos, Crusaders will again be stocked to the brim with talent, coaching, depth

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Sunset junior Ember Stratton and the Apollos after both a Metro League and Class 6A state championship this season.

Last fall, the Sunset and Jesuit girls cross country teams escalated an already fiery rivalry to a nuclear level.

Stockpiled with crazy quality depth and indelible superstars who succeed both on the cross country courses in the fall and on the track during the spring, the Apollos and Crusaders were and are the envy of the Metro League. In almost any other given season, Sunset's 2016 team would have been far-and-away good enough to sweep the district and Class 6A state championships. Ember Stratton, Lucy Huelskamp, and Kelly Makin finished first, second and third overall at the district title, but Jesuit won the team title. Stratton won the 6A state meet by 24 seconds, Makin took second and Huelskamp finished fifth as a freshman, yet the Crusaders' unending mine of young stars such as Keely McCormick and Makenna Schumacher won out in the team standings.

It's a rambunctious arms race that's been waged for the past decade with no end in sight. And better yet, the battle should continue to mushroom this season. Interestingly enough, just one of Metro's 13 all-league runners graduated last season. That doesn't include Stratton, Huelskamp, Makin, McCormick, Schumacher or Jesuit sophomore Alexis Kebbe, who was a first-team all-Metro pick. Southridge senior Taylor Chiotti was a first-team all-Metro selection and Aloha sophomore Emily Foote made a big splash as a freshman, garnering second-team all-Metro honors. Westview enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, taking third in Metro and punching a ticket to the state meet. Factor in newcomer Mountainside, a school that could morph into a power in the near future, and the Metro is again the class of the 6A ranks.

"The Jesuit and Sunset girls are competitive on a national level," Aloha head coach Ken Martinez said. "That will an interesting battle for the league title. Westview and Southridge have the returners to battle for third. I think with the third place open for the state meet, teams shoot for third place and just let Sunset and Jesuit do their thing. There is a real separation between those two teams and the rest of the league."

"I'd expect to see a dog fight between Sunset and Jesuit," Mountainside head coach Greg Mitchell said. "On the girl's side, in particular, you have every athlete who placed in the top 10 in 2016 coming back this year, so that should be quite a battle."

"Jesuit and Sunset will be the top teams not only in the district but the state as well," Southridge head coach Michael Christiansen said.

"Jesuit and Sunset have strength but also the depth for first and second at districts," Westview head coach Rebecca Martin said.

Following are previews for the Beaverton-area Metro League girls cross country teams for the 2017 season.

Aloha

The Warriors have frequented the 6A state meet the past handful of years or so and hope to return after Westview won the head-to-head photo finish matchup a season ago. Led by Foote, senior Grace Greaves, junior Nyah Songster and senior Kelly Nickel, Aloha's front four can legitimately vie for the conference's third seed. According to Martinez, Foote "looks really strong" after a great freshman campaign. Greaves, Songster, Nickel are working hard with Foote to formulate a strong pack, Martinez said.

"The girls look good with our top four runners, but we will need a few girls to close the gap and be a solid fifth and sixth runner for us to challenge for the top half of the league," Martinez said.

Beaverton

Expect better results and hopefully a win or two for the Beavers this season.

Of the five runners who competed at the Metro championship last year, only one graduated. Senior Malia Roll, who ran a 20:01 and took 23rd at districts, heads Beaverton's pack. She's joined by seniors Hannah Mcleod and Jamie Bowen as well as junior Sydnie Rissel. Both Bowen and Mcleod set personal records at the district championship last season and will try and build upon those marks in their final years as Beaverton entrants.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit cross country runners Alexis Kebbe, Makenna Schumacher and Libby Rinck are back for the defending Metro League and Class 6A state champions.

Jesuit

If you thought 2016 was a banner year for the Crusaders, wait for the encore.

Schumacher, McCormick and Kebbe are all elite competitors, but they're not alone. Sophomore Kelsey Gripekoven and juniors Greta Anderson and Libby Rinck also return from the '16 state title team. All six of Jesuit's bunch finished within the top-25 overall at the state gala a year ago. What made the Metro and state champs so dangerous wasn't so much their front line talent, but their unpredictability on race day. Whether it was Schumacher or Rinck or Kebbe, any of Jesuit's top-tier talent could take the competition's lead, floor it to the front and hold the advantage through the tape. There were plenty of capable pace-setters. And while Sunset's stars often shined individually, the Crusaders answered with waves of numbers. Plus, Schumacher is coming off of a state championship in the 3,000 on the track. Should Schumacher, Kebbe, McCormick and company continue to drop time and stay injury-free at the front of the pack, the Crusaders' desirable depth should be enough to capture another crown.

Mountainside

Though just in its infancy stages as a program, the Mavericks promise to be a viable figure in the Metro standings.

Mitchell said it's tough to tell who will step up early on in the years, seeing that Mountainside hasn't had an actual meet yet. However, Mitchell noted they've had three individuals separate themselves on most workouts and expect them to be strong competitors on race day in freshmen Grace Saxton and Kennedy Long and sophomore Lindsey Vaternick.

"We're super young and very inexperienced, but there's a lot of enthusiasm and a willingness to put in the work necessary to improve," Mitchell said. "We will be better in October than we are in August, but what that means in terms of competitiveness with the rest of the Metro League is hard to predict. The team is committed to laying a foundation of excellence - only time will tell whether we see the fruit of our labor immediately this season or have to wait for future seasons."

Mitchell said Mountainside will take its share of lumps this season because of their reliance on freshmen and sophomores. Still, the Mavericks are building for the future and won't roll over for anybody.

"We are made up of only freshmen and sophomores, so expectations would logically be low," Mitchell said. "That said, I always encourage athletes to dream big, so you can expect the Mavericks to be laying it all out there when the gun goes off. We're not planning to just give anyone the win."

Southridge

Chiotti's presence gives Southridge a shot at victory against most squads simply based on the fact she's capable of beating basically any of the Metro's best individuals head-to-head.

The senior is coming off a great track season where she set personal bests in the 800(2:09.70) and 1500 (4:39).

"She is not only the best in school history but also one of the best in the state," Christiansen said.

Juniors Isabella Espinoza and Sadie Cutler and sophomores Ana Russell and Bailey Moreno make up the Skyhawks' starting varsity lineup alongside Chiotti.

"The girl's team finished fifth in Metro last year and looking to move up," Christiansen said.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Westview sophomore Irene Nagasaka leads an experience, talented group of Wildcats on the cross country course.

Sunset

The Apollos' established superstars are set in Stratton, Huelskamp and Makin.

Stratton is the 6A's defending state champion, a past 3,000-meter state champ and the reigning Oregon Sports Awards Female Cross Country Runner of the Year. Makin put on an absolute show at the 6A track and field state championships, winning the 800 and 1,500. Huelskamp saved her best outings for last as a freshman, peaking at the district and state cross country meets. She too is a track star in her own right. Sunset, despite not winning districts or state, took 11th in the nation at the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland with Stratton taking second overall and Huelskamp and Makin placing in the top-75. There's not a whole lot more those three can do on their own, so the onus is on the rest of the Apollo pack to steadily improve and put pressure on the opponent's fourth, fifth and sixth best runners. Thankfully, Sunset's throng is super solid with senior Jolien Deboutte, sophomore Na'ama Nevo and junior Grace Beal slated to return.

Westview

The momentum Martin and company started last fall — finishing third in Metro and 15th in state — is a great foundation to build off for the Wildcats.Westview's best runner is sophomore Irene Nagasaka, who took 69th at state last season and was the Wildcat's first finisher at the Metro district championship. Junior Emily Taylor, seniors Isabelle Marcantuono, Dierdre McKay, Emily Enriquez and Ellie Ruble make up a veteran-laden squad that wants to make it back to state and protect its coveted state berth.

"Irene Nagasaka fights through every race," Martin said. "She will lead the XC girls, along with Emily Taylor and Isabelle Marcantuono, who also bring their game to the races. With all of our top girls being upper-class women, the coaching staff is looking for a solid performance at districts this year and qualifying again for states."

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