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Lakeridge boys cross country squad finds its way against tough WL team

Lake Oswego isn't the only local school with an impressive boys cross-country team. Now, a lot more people will be paying attention to Lakeridge, especially after last week's victory over a strong West Linn team.

'We ran really, really well. It was a really big win four our guys,' Lakeridge coach Ken James said of his boys team. 'At one point (West Linn) was ranked in the top 10, so our guys were really motivated.'

And it wasn't just West Linn that Lakeridge beat last Wednesday. The Pacers also beat Tualatin and McMinnville, who also participated in the meet as part of a joint competition agreement between the Three Rivers League and the Pacific Conference.

Individually, no one was faster than Lakeridge junior Dave Marks.

During the track season last spring, Marks established himself as one of the top distance runners in the state and now he's threatening to do the same in cross country. He won last Wednesday's meet with a time of 17:06 while West Linn's Ben Morrow was second with a time of 17:12.

After a Tualatin runner took third, Lakeridge then claimed three of the next five spots. That group was led by Rishi Rikhi (who took fourth overall), Cole Flora (sixth) and Alex Anderson (eighth). Rounding out the scoring for Lakeridge was Andrew Balter in the No. 13 spot. By the time he crossed the finish line, Balter had only two West Linn runners in front of him.

'Right now, our top five guys are running pretty dang good,' James said. '… It's not just Dave Marks. We have other guys in practice that don't give him anything.'

That competition has not only helped out the team, but 'it's helped Dave out a lot, too,' the coach said.

No longer is Marks a threat to beat everyone by a minute or more. Now, his teammates are finishing on his heels.

Despite starting the season 2-0 in league dual meets, James doesn't want his team celebrating too much. At least not yet.

'We still have some work to do,' James admits.

Plus, the Pacers still have difficult meets coming up against Clackamas and Lake Oswego. Heading into the season, Clackamas was expected to be the team to beat on the boys side, but Lake Oswego knocked off the Cavs in the opening league meet of the season. That moved Lake Oswego into a No. 10 ranking in the statewide poll. That was the same spot that West Linn occupied for a while before Lakeridge showed up.

With so many good teams at the top of the league, the argument of who's best probably won't be settled until the district meet late this month.

'It's absolutely wide open … It's going to be a battle,' James said.

The Lakeridge girls team, meanwhile, didn't fear as well against West Linn last week. In fact, the Pacers barely out fourth-place McMinnville, one of the two unofficial opponents in that meet. Despite the 17-46 loss, James still saw some good signs from his girls team.

'We were really happy with how they ran,' the coach said. 'Our five scoring girls had their best races of the year.'

And James held out of the team's top runners, so there will probably be even more improvement in the coming weeks.

One person who was on hand, though, was senior Kirah Aldinger-Gibson. She was the Pacers' top finisher with a 12th-place showing and a time of 21:59.

Aldinger-Gibson has run faster than that in the past, but she's also had to deal with a long string of injuries in the past. Now, she's starting to look more like her old self.

'Kirah is starting to do some pretty good things,' James said. 'But she still has a ways to go … But the one thing about Kirah is she's very competitive. When she steps to the line, she's a competitor.'

The Pacers' No. 2 runner was Lindsay Wagner, who finished in 19th place overall with the best performance in her two years of running.

The remaining scorers for the Lakeridge girls were Natalie Barry, Kelly Bartz and Galina Olson.

'A good thing about the girls is we have a lot of depth,' the coach noted. 'The key is to move some of them up so they can run with Kirah,' James said.

Lakeridge will be back this weekend with an overnight trip to Tri-Cities (Wash.), where the Pacers will face a number of strong teams in one of the biggest meets of the year in Washington.