It might be unfair to expect either of Lakeridge's cross-country teams to claim a district title this season, but a top-three finish certainly isn't out of the question.

After struggling in recent seasons, the Lakeridge cross-country program could be turning the corner. There are a number of promising runners on both the boys and girls teams, so at the very least, a good showing by someone at the state meet seems like a real possibility.

Junior Dave Marks might be the person with the best chance of shining at the state meet. He finished sixth in the 3,000-meter run in the last spring's state track meet. He now looks to be one of the best cross-country runners around.

Last year, Marks spent of the fall playing soccer and he still finished 13th in the district cross-country meet. This year, with his focus on running, he should be one of the favorites to win the district title, Lakeridge coach Ken James said earlier this week.

Rounding out the boys varsity team will be junior Rishi Rikhi, junior Cole Flora, senior Andrew Balter, sophomore Alex Anderson, junior Scott Marek and sophomore Quinn Pulton. It's a strong group that includes a mix of experience and promise.

'The league is going to be wide open this year,' James said. So, 'we could finish in the top three.

'It's going to be one of the most wide open meets we've had. I'm really, really excited.'

Last year's boys team started the season somewhat slowly but finished the campaign with a strong kick, which translated into a fifth-place showing at the state meet.

'Then they made the transition real well to track,' James said. 'Now they have a lot of confidence.'

In the team's biggest meet so far this season, the Pacers finished sixth in an 11-team invitational meet at Wilsonville that included two of the top three teams in the state. James said he was impressed with his team's showing but he expects things to get even better as the season goes on.

The Pacers will get their next big test in next week's dual meet against West Linn, a team that is ranked in the top 15 in the state.

'(West Linn) is probably a little ahead of us,' James said. 'We need some time to close the gap.'

In fact, there could be a few bumps along the road before that gap closes.

'We'll get beat early in the year by some teams that we'll come back and beat at the end of the year,' the coach predicted.

The girls team, meanwhile, also has an interesting mix of experience and youth. If they all come together like James is hoping, they could be a strong team.

The squad is led by sophomore Kayla Glanville, who was the team's top runner last year as a freshman. She finished in the top 20 at the district meet.

Also vying for the top spot will be senior Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, who has battled injuries most of her career. But when she's healthy, she can be really good. As a freshman, she finished second at the district meet, losing only to Clackamas' heralded Claire Michel. Then, Aldinger-Gibson missed her sophomore season with injuries and was forced to sit out much of last season and she still finished 13th in the district meet.

Sophomore Cassie Loren also is looking good and could challenge Glanville and Aldinger-Gibson for the team's top spot. Also pushing the lead pack will be junior Lindsay Wagner, freshman Kelly Bartz, senior Archelle Grajeda, junior Olga Olson, her twin sister Galina Olson and senior Natalie Barry.

In a meet two weeks ago, James held out his top three runners because of minor injuries, and the team's next five competitors all finished within 30 seconds of each other. Ideally, James would like to have a couple of front-runners who can put pressure on the league's top runners. He said that could happen 'once we get into October.'

Earning a trip to state could be a difficult proposition, since only two teams from each league make it and James considers Clackamas and West Linn 'heads and shoulders' above the other teams in the league. A top-10 ranking for both of those teams would seem to justify his claim.

'Then it's pretty wide open,' the coach said, with Lakeridge, Lake Oswego and Putnam all vying for the third spot at district.

Regardless of where the team finishes, James just wants his runners to have fun, 'because that's what it's all about,' he said.

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