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Making their way in the new 3A

Valley Catholic's cross country teams test themselves at the OES Invite
by: MILES VANCE, STEP FOR STEP — Valley Catholic senior Laura Ueki (right) ran step-for-step with Westside Christian’s Abigail King most of the way during the Oregon Episcopal Invitational last week. King ran to first place and Ueki to fifth, but both were later disqualified for taking a wrong turn on the course.

PORTLAND - There were bound to be a few missteps and wrong turns as Valley Catholic makes the transition to its new Class 3A league for 2006, and nowhere was that fact pointed out better than at the Oregon Episcopal Invitational last week.

With the Valiants' cross country teams running against 13 other Class 3A schools at OES on Sept. 19, Valley Catholic found plenty of tough competition, and also found it tough just to stay on course at OES. Valiant senior Laura Ueki ran to an apparent fifth-place finish in the race, but along with the day's top two finishers, was later disqualified for taking a wrong turn and cutting off a portion of the course.

'In the first mile or so I kind of realized we were going to wrong way because there were cones in front of us and I guess we ended up cutting off some of the course so that wasn't too good,' Ueki said.

'It was tough,' said Valley Catholic coach Dale French. 'We've been running a number of new courses this year and she was following somebody she thought was from OES.'

And on the subject of interesting turns, Valley's Kate Cary added a bit of time and distance to her race when she took a detour to alert French to the fact that teammate Kate Emery needed her inhaler.

Despite Ueki's DQ and the team's various other mishaps, the Valiants finished eighth overall with 208 points and had plenty of positives to talk about afterward.

'Our team looks really strong because we have (sophomore) Meghan Blood on the team this year. I think she'll really help us,' Ueki said. 'We have a good chance to win at district. We want to go to state.'

Blood (who missed the OES meet with an academic commitment) and Ueki have led the VC girls team so far this year, but the Valiants also got strong contributions last week from Charlotte Pfeiffer (who finished 24th in 25.09 in her first competitive meet) and from Liska Yamada (who placed 31st in 26.02). Also scoring for the VC varsity were Julie Brempelis (45th in 27.43), Kate Cary (78th in 32.44) and Lisa Farrell (90th in 35.08).

'Charlotte is … still learning her pace, but this was her first race and she was our number two finisher,' French said.

Catlin Gabel's girls ran away with the team title, finishing with 20 points and five of the meet's top 14 runners. Catlin's Hailey Ney won the meet in 21:31.

In the boys meet, the Valiants managed to stay on course and raced to a fifth-place overall finish with 141 points, and trailing Catlin Gabel (30 pts.), Westside Christian (56), Heritage Christian (98) and Knappa (98).

Brooks Feldman led the way for Valley at OES, running to a 12th-place finish with a time of 20.02. The rest of the VC pack finished close behind too, including Sean O'Brien (17th in 20.35), Alan McCarthy (26th in 20.54), Brian Bellinger (47th in 22.03) and Gavin Burgess (60th in 22.52).

'Brooks, Sean O'Brien and Alan McCarthy are the three leaders of the team and they push each other real hard,' French said. 'And they continue to slice time off too.

'Now we just need the younger guys to continue to understand more and more about competitive racing.'

In upcoming meets, Valley Catholic runs at the Silver Falls Invitational at Silver Falls State Park at 4 p.m. today (Thursday).