by: MILES VANCE, FLYING HIGH – Jesuit senior Sam Larson and his Crusader teammates have their sights set on another Metro League title for 2006.

It's a new year, but the song remains the same this fall for Metro League cross country.

Jesuit remains firmly entrenched as the league's top team and a contender for the state title. With four of the five top returning runners in the Metro League, the Crusaders are the consensus choice to defend their title. Who joins them at the state meet, however, will be a dogfight between a handful of teams confident in their ability to contend for the league's second state berth.

'I think it will be back and forth,' Southridge coach Doug Fischer said. 'It will come down to whoever's healthy and has everybody ready at the end of the year.'

Jesuit, Sunset and Beaverton have had a stranglehold on the league's state berths the past 15 years, with just two other schools qualifying for the state meet once each during that span. But Southridge, Westview and Aloha each are optimistic that they could join Jesuit at state this year.

'It's pretty wide open after Jesuit,' Westview coach Charles Douglas said. 'It's a five-way tie for second. It will depend on who has the better fourth through sixth runners. Everybody's pretty close up front in the top-three spots.'

'In cross country the fifth person is more important than the first,' Beaverton coach Jim Archer added. 'Yes, it's an individual sport, but if you want the team to go, you have to have a solid five.'

Adding a wrinkle to this season's district meet is the addition of four individual berths for runners not on the state-qualifying teams.

'There's a good chance each school can get an athlete there,' Jesuit coach Tom Rothenberger said. 'That should create a lot of local interest for the state meet.'


ALOHA - A year ago, Aloha was as young as any team in the league - now the Warriors have a ton of experience and coach Tim Tank believes they can contend for a state berth.

'They've definitely set high expectations,' said Tank, who returns his complete varsity lineup after a seventh-place district finish a year ago. 'They know what they need to do to get the job done. They just need to be consistent.'

Sophomore Jason Waldram and senior Ryan Abriel will set the pace for Aloha after finishing 17th and 21st at district last year.

'Jason's looking to build off a track season in which he finished seventh in the 3,000 at districts,' Tank said.

Seniors Kurtis Owen and Brad Ackerson and junior Trey Trahin (who had mononucleosis at the end of last season and didn't compete at district) return to fill out the team's top five.

'That's our nucleus right now,' Tank said. 'Jason and Ryan are running a little more out front with the other three close together.'

Rounding out Aloha's lineup are senior William Maxson and junior Alex LaFlamme.


BEAVERTON - The Beavers graduated their top two runners, but return a solid group that coach Jim Archer believes will keep them in contention for their third straight state berth.

Without a standout, Beaverton will employ a pack mentality to ensure success. That group includes four juniors and a senior who were the No. 3 through 7 runners last year.

Junior Vincent Kirse and senior Kyle Schytz will likely pace the group with juniors Maneesh Arora, Marcus Himmelhoch and Brandon Taft following close behind.

'All those kids should run within a minute of each other,' Archer said. 'That's the ideal. It's a pretty tight pack. Where that pack runs will determine our success.'

Newcomer Paul Fowler could be in that group too after joining the team as a senior.

'He's actually looking pretty tough,' Archer said. 'Just a natural talent.'

Junior Jordan Severson and senior Patrick Yoho will battle for the seventh varsity lineup spot.


BEAVERTON - Jesuit was so deep last season that coach Tom Rothenberger figures the Crusaders have 10 of the league's top 11 runners from the '05 district meets when the JV results are also taken into consideration.

With that sort of depth, it's no wonder that the race is for second place in the Metro League. That said, the challenge for Jesuit is improving when its main competition will be amongst itself.

'We're going to concentrate on getting better and taking the group to each next level,' Rothenberger said. 'We have six runners that are pretty well established.'

That group includes the district's top three returners in senior Sam Larson and juniors Brian Manning and Peter Maag. The trio finished within six seconds of each other at district last year, placing sixth, fifth and eighth as Jesuit took six of the top 10 spots.

Also back is junior Lukas Rothenberger, who placed 15th at district last year and is the fifth-best returner in the league.

After that, the Crusaders have plenty of options.

'There's another five kids all within that same group,' Rothenberger said. 'The traditional goal is to be 30 seconds apart for the one through five runners; one through seven on a good year.'

That might be the case this year with seniors Jon Carly, Charlie Neville and junior Hans Hagmeir and Jake Gardner the frontrunners to complete the varsity. But they'll be pushed by seniors Matt Spear, Marcus Schwab and Ian Berg, as well as sophomore Dalton Peturson and freshman Ben DeMaree.

'On any given day, we have 12 to 14 runners that could be in the top seven,' Rothenberger said. 'They're all legitimate runners in their own right.'


BEAVERTON - Despite losing its top runner to graduation, Southridge figures to be in the mix for a state berth at district.

Heading that optimism is the return of junior Michael Brown, who Skyhawks' coach Doug Fischer thinks could contend for an individual state berth if the team doesn't make it.

'He's ready to take over our number one spot,' Fischer said. 'He was pushing the front last year and has gotten a lot stronger. I'm looking for good performances out of him.'

Not far behind is senior Tom Semph, who is Southridge's top returning district placer after taking 16th in 2005. Fischer will look to Brown and Semph to lead a pack that also includes senior Jordan Brock, sophomore Kurtis Semph, senior Michael Brown and sophomore Kyle Schenone.

'That bunch of guys are right in there,' Fischer said. 'I'm confident that we'll have a solid pack. We just need to get them where they belong.'

Adding to that mix is intriguing junior Andrew Elzinga. The home-schooled student was in the park with his father while Southridge was training and inquired about joining the team.

'He's right in there with Kurtis, Michael and Kyle,' Fischer said. 'He's a strong athlete and works pretty hard.'


CEDAR MILL - Sunset enters the season in rebuilding mode under first-year co-coaches Matt Burg and Dan Neeway after graduating four of its top five runners from the 2005 district meet.

Junior Armand Reitz and senior Peter Fey do return for Sunset, which took fourth at district last fall. Seniors Skuyler Herzog and Kyle Hubler (the team's top returner after placing 22nd at district), and sophomores Ryan Kavanaugh and Arslan Quraishi lead what is a wide-open race for the Apollos' seven varsity spots.

'Armand, Peter and Ryan share the lead in most workouts, but the next three aren't far behind,' Neeway said.

Despite having four new varsity runners and two new head coaches, Burg and Neeway remain optimistic this team will remain competitive.

'We see ourselves in a rebuilding phase,' Neeway said. 'We recognize that we aren't the only team in this position, but we believe that, if our boys continue to fight, a top-three finish at district isn't out of the question.'

Both Neeway and Burg are assistants on the track team and will share the load of coaching both the boys and girls teams.

'We work well together,' Neeway said. 'We have similar opinions and goals.'


ROCK CREEK - With five varsity runners returning and another top competitor back from injury, optimism is brewing that Westview can return to state after placing third at district last year.

But with just one senior, the squad is looking to do more than just contend this season.

'This team's big year is still to come, but I think we can make a lot of progress this year,' Westview coach Charles Douglas said. 'We're shooting for the number two spot to state. Regardless, we'll get some experience so we can do some damage next year.'

Sophomore Alex Emberlin will be one of the league's top runners after placing 13th at the district meet last year.

'He's in good shape,' Douglas said. 'He's coming back ahead of where he started last year.'

Running right up there with Emberlin is Erik Myers and junior Nick Bugas.

'Those three give us a good 1-2-3 punch,' Douglas said. 'They'll duke it out during the season for the top spot. It's going to help each of them get better and create a healthy competition.'

Douglas expects junior Evan Johnson to be close on that trio's heels.

'We're working on getting him as close as we can to those guys,' Douglas said. 'That front four is looking really solid.'

After that is where questions arise for the Wildcats. Douglas said the No. 5 spot is a wide-open battle and will be filled by 'who can get in shape the quickest.'

Leading the race to fill that hole is lone senior and captain Cory Long. Juniors Matt Hutchinson and Nick Sayre (who returns from an injury), as well as sophomore Tim Coons, will also fight for varsity time.

With the slew of young talent, Douglas hopes this season will be a building block for future success.

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