But questions abound as Valley Catholic prepares for life in the new Class 3A
BEAVERTON - Valley Catholic enters the cross country season with the uncertainty of competing in a completely new league following the OSAA's reclassification.
What goes without question for fifth-year coach Dale French is that he returns one of the state's top runners at the Class 3A level in Laura Ueki. The senior finished second in the Tri-Valley League district meet last season and followed with an impressive eighth-place showing at state to earn a berth to BorderClash, a competition between the top runners from Oregon and Washington.
Like many of her teammates, Ueki will again juggle soccer and cross country this fall, after adding first team all-district and second team all-state honors on the soccer field last year to her accomplishments as a runner.
'Finishing in the top-10 at state and breaking the school record kept her motivated throughout the summer,' French said. 'I think she knows she can get a top-five finish. She can be right in the sniff of a championship. She's that tough.'
Ueki finally got her chance to run at the state meet last fall after qualifying as a sophomore, but being unable to compete since Valley Catholic's soccer team qualified for the state championship on the same day.
'She's an animal,' French said. 'It's just a matter of finding the right balance between the two sports to make sure she is fully ready to go.'
For the small school, participating in both soccer and cross country has become common for many Valiants' athletes. Sophomore Meghan Blood is in the same line as Ueki, competing in both sports, and was right behind her during summer workouts, according to French.
'She had a good outdoor track season last spring and is very, very tough,' he said. 'It will be interesting to see how she responds in her first full season of dabbling in both.'
Valley Catholic added another soccer player who will run full time in junior Leska Umota. She joins a growing list of two-sport athletes that already included returning juniors Kate Emily and Kate Cary.
'I don't know how they do it,' French said. 'They're great kids and they make it work. It's part of what makes being a small school great. Kids can do so many things.'
That crew joins three-time letterwinner Lisa Farrell to form a solid core that French believes should contend for a state team berth.
'I think we have good enough athletes to compete for a state berth in both boys and girls,' French said.
The boys team will be reloading after graduating five seniors, including state qualifier Travis Banker.
French sees Sean O'Brien and Brooks Feldman as leading the pack for the Valiants this season. Feldman would've been one of the team's top runners last year, but an injury sidelined him for the season.
Alan McCarty and Brian Bellinger are a step behind Valley Catholic's two frontrunners while senior Michael Hoffman, who plays basketball and baseball, is a nice addition to the squad.
'Our wild card is Michael Hoffman and how quickly he can get ready to run 5K,' French said.
Also intriguing for French is a pair of newcomers in freshmen Gavin Bourgess, a year-round swimmer, and Kevin Bellinger.
'They're both coming in looking good,' French said.
While competing in a new league provides some uncertainty, French is intrigued by the prospect.
'It should be a fun year to get acclimated to the new league,' he said. 'We have seven strong runners that will help us in the team competition for the boys.'