The son of the only state cross-country champion in school history leads the Cougars into the Three Rivers League district finals.

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Morgan Webber (front) leads the Canby boys cross-country team into its district meet Oct. 23 at Clackamas Community College. His father, Mark Webber, won a state title and carried the Cougars to fourth place in 1986.No matter how fast Morgan Webber ran, he couldn’t escape the burdens of his last name.

The expectations.

The comparisons.

The shadow.

They were unintentional punishments for having the only state champion in Canby cross-country history as a father.

After several years of competing under the pressure borne by his lineage, Webber realized he couldn’t be successful within that framework. So he changed his approach to the sport altogether.

“It used to weigh on me, but there was a point where I stopped thinking about things that were getting in my way,” he said. “I started thinking about myself.”

It’s a mental makeover that will be tested Oct. 23 at Clackamas Community College, where the senior will run in the final district meet of his high school career as he and the Cougars vie for berths to the state championships.

Webber enters the race on the heels of a standout season in which he posted top-10 finishes in five of his first six events. He clocked a career-best time of 16 minutes 40.69 seconds at a Sept. 21 meet in Oregon City, snagged top individual honors at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort with a 17:28 a week later and finished behind only Reynolds senior Ahmed Ibrahim — a state-title contender — with a 17:21.17 at an Oct. 9 competition in Gresham.

A four-year member of Canby’s cross-country program, Webber has been a consistent scorer at the Three Rivers League finals. He was the school’s No. 2 finisher as a freshman, earned a personal-best district finish (19th overall) with a 17:04.32 as the No. 1 runner in his sophomore campaign and recorded the squad’s fourth score last season.

But his tenure has coincided with a lack of team success for the Cougars, who have not been represented at the state meet since 2007 and have not qualified as a group since 2006. They’ve placed at or near the bottom of the district standings in each of the last three years.

This season, Webber and his teammate have put an emphasis on turning the program around.

“We’re trying to show the rest of the district that we’re out for a fight,” Webber said. “Canby’s coming.”

Webber is expected to run with a contingent that includes fellow senior Brendan Seehaver, junior Ethan Patterson and standout sophomores Steven Cranston and Quinton Wiltshire. All five competed in the varsity race at last year’s district meet.

Even with a talented and ambitious set of athletes, though, the Cougars will likely need near-perfect performances to qualify for the state finals in a conference race that features strong squads from West Linn, Lakeridge and Portland-Grant. The district’s top two teams and the four fastest individuals from non-qualifying teams will advance to the Class 6A championships.

“They have a shot,” Canby coach Tom Millbrooke said. “But our league is so strong. If you make it, it’s going to be a great accomplishment. If you don’t make it, it’s not because you weren’t very good. It’s just that you weren’t at your best on the day you needed to be.”

Millbrooke speaks with experience. After all, the Cougars have been represented at the state finals by a boy, girl or team in almost every cross-country season of his 29-year coaching tenure.

But only one of his athletes has ever seized the ultimate prize.

In 1986, then-senior Mark Webber traversed 5,000 meters in 15:40.0 and edged Portland-Benson’s Peter Pritchett by three-tenths of a second to win the AAA state title. He also carried Canby to fourth place in the team standings behind Bend, Klamath Union and Sunset.

Inadvertently, the feat manifested itself a quarter-century later in the form of an unfavorable competitive environment for his son.

“There’s probably been a little pressure,” Millbrooke said. “But the fact that he’s grown up in an athletic family is probably more of a positive than a negative.”

After graduating from Canby, the older Webber continued his running career at the University of Portland. He captured a West Coast Conference cross-country championship as a freshman with a time of 33:09 on a 10-kilometer course at Crystal Springs Park in Belmont, Calif.

He earned a degree in computer applications management from Portland in 1992 and eight years later founded Webber Consulting, a computer-services business that he still runs today.

Mark Webber has held several positions on the Canby Area Chamber of Commerce board, serving as its president in 2008.

He has also given back to his alma mater as an influential assistant cross-country coach. And for one runner in particular, he’s been much more than that.

A father.

A mentor.

A fan.

“His presence definitely helps,” the younger Webber said, noting the impact of his father’s pre-race speeches. “It’s good to have him here. Racing when he’s not here isn’t the same.”



A look at Morgan Webber’s district-meet results over the last three years:

2010: 17:28.16 (28th overall, second for Canby)

2011: 17:04.32 (19th overall, first for Canby)

2012: 17:51.97 (23rd overall, fourth for Canby)

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