In the overall scheme of things, an easy victory over Clackamas last Wednesday really didn't settle much for the West Linn girls cross-country team.

It wasn't the final score, which was 19 to 38, that was significant, especially since Clackamas' top two runners were out of action. More importantly, the West Linn girls appeared to be running at peak form as they headed into the district meet, which was held Wednesday at Clackamas Community College.

After going undefeated during the just-completed dual meet season, West Linn appeared to be the favorite going into the district meet. But the Lions proved last year that being the favorite doesn't always translate into a victory.

Last year, the Clackamas girls beat West Linn during the dual season, but the Lions returned the favor by winning the district meet. West Linn coach Scott Spear was hoping that history doesn't repeat itself in that regard this year.

Maybe the one thing that works in West Linn's favor this year is the fact that their top seven runners have now eclipsed the 21-minute mark for the 5,000-meter run. With that kind of depth, this could wind up being the best girls cross-country team West Linn has ever had, and the school has had some good squads.

Certainly Spear wouldn't go as far as to guarantee a victory at districts, but even a second-place finish wouldn't be bad. That would earn the Lions a spot in next week's state meet.

'I feel confident that we will qualify for state,' Spear said. 'That's what it's all about.'

With Clackamas' Claire Michel, possibly the best runner in the state, out of action last week, West Linn's Taylor Nowlin got a chance to be the star of the show. She won the race with ease, registering a winning time of 19:32. That was about 30 seconds slower than her season PR, but one gets the feeling that she would have established a new PR if Michel had been there to speed up the pace.

The important thing is Nowlin is right where she needs to be as she prepares for the state meet.

'She's ready. She's quite ready,' Spear said.

Approximately one minute behind Nowlin last week was a small pack of runners that included virtually everyone else on West Linn's varsity squad. That pack was led by Whitney Harmon, who was fourth overall (including runners from the Pacific Conference) with a time of 20:30.

She was followed by Rachel Seigneur, who had her best finish of the year. Her time of 20:39, which was good enough for sixth place, was a 22-second improvement over her previous season's-best time.

Next was Diana Crane in the seventh spot (with a time of 20:43), then Natalie Pittenger in eighth (20:44), Kristi Pace in 12th (21:00), Kathryn Flyte in 13th (21:01) and Kelsey Gerber in 14th (21:02).

In last week's boys race, Clackamas showed that it might be one of the best teams in the state, not just the Three Rivers League. The Cavs won the meet 19 to 38 and they had three runners place ahead of West Linn's first finisher.

But that West Linn runner, Ben Morrow, shouldn't be too disappointed. His time of 16:42 was his third-fastest time of the year and he's inching closer to a PR. He finished seventh overall. Michael Bernert, meanwhile, had his best race ever while turning in a time of 16:52, which put him in 11th place.

The biggest story for the boys, though, was the race turned in by sophomore Neil Rajput, whose time of 16:56 was 36 seconds faster than his previous career PR. That was good enough for a 12th-place showing for him.

'Neil Rajput ran out of his mind,' Spear said. 'He ran hard from start to finish.'

In the past, there had been a substantial gap between Morrow and Bernert and the other runners on West Linn's team. Spear's goal during the season was to close that gap to virtually nothing. Well, Rajput certainly proved that it was possible.

'Now, we need the others to do that,' the coach said.

Even though West Linn lost handily to Clackamas last week, Spear felt it was a wide-open race for the No. 2 spot at the district meet. Spear was betting that would be a race to the wire between West Linn, Lake Oswego and Lakeridge.

'We're putting ourselves into the best position we can,' Spear said as his team headed into the district meet.

The coach also was confident that his junior varsity teams would fare well at districts. In fact, both squads were favored to win. The JV boys are led by Seth Wheeler, who turned in an impressive 17:52 time last week. Flyte, who Spear believes would be a varsity runner for any other team in the league, was favored to win the JV girls race.

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