cross country -- Vikings qualify for the 6A state meet with a second-place finish at Pacific Conference districts
by: Dan Brood,

For the third year in a row, Forest Grove is off to the OSAA Cross Country Championships.

The Vikings capped another stellar Pacific Conference season with a second-place showing at the annual district meet, held Thursday at Clackamas Community College, qualifying the team for their third straight berth at the 6A state meet.

Forest Grove was led by senior Josh Seitz, who battled right up to the bitter end against Canby star Sean Coleman. Seitz led the race for a portion but fell off the pace set by Coleman, who would go on to win with a time of 15:55.82. Seitz finished second in 16:10.29, but spearheaded a solid Forest Grove effort as the Vikings cruised to a second-place finish.

All five Forest Grove runners finished in the Top 15 to give the Vikings 51 team points, well ahead of third-place Newberg (77). Canby won the district with 23 points, while Tigard (87), Tualatin (106) and McMinnville (164) rounded out the field, in that order.

Seitz's second-place time was the fourth-best in Forest Grove history, as the senior continues to rewrite the school record book. He now owns five of the Vikings' top six 5K times dating back to 1987.

Fellow senior Justin Marble was the next Forest Grove runner to cross the finish line, taking eighth place in 16:46.50. Marble was followed by a cluster of Vikings in 12th, 14th and 15th. Nick Wallace, a junior, was 12th with a time of 16:53.84 and Eric Weinbender, another junior, took 14th in 16:59.86. Senior Chris Paterson claimed 15th place in 17:04.58.

'We're running really well right now,' said Forest Grove coach Sue Fleskes. 'We're fast and we're running in a tight pack.'

Canby dominated the race, placing all five runners in the Top 10. In addition to Coleman's winning effort, the Cougars got a third-place finish from Josh Raines (16:19.97) and a fourth-place finish from Austin Fricker (16:35.72). Nick Petshow took sixth (16:39.32) and Michael Theis was ninth (16:50.64).

Other Top 10 finishers included Newberg's Santana Alvarez (fifth), Tigard's Nick Lennartz (seventh) and Tualatin's Timothy Plunkett (10th). All three runners qualified for the state meet as unattached individuals, along with Newberg's Clint Cardwell, who finished 11th.

There was good news for the Forest Grove girls, as well. Freshman Laura Matzke finished seventh overall with a time of 19:42.87, topping her own school record by 11 seconds. The Lady Vikings finished fourth as a team - not quite good enough to qualify for state - but Matzke was the second unattached runner to make the cut behind Newberg's Sarah Boyd, who finished first overall in 19:12.20.

Forest Grove teammates Sarah Amina (20:53.76) and Danielle Jackson (21:02.76) swept 20th and 21st, respectively. Sarah Howe (21:44.87) and Aubrey Peters (22:07.20) claimed 25th and 28th to round out the Lady Vikings' team score of 101. Canby took third place with a score of 82.

The battle for first place in the district was a heated one, with Tualatin edging Tigard by the narrowest of margins - 42 to 43. Tualatin had all five runners finish in the Top 15, while Tigard had four individuals in the Top 10, but the Lady Tigers' final finisher was back in 22nd, dropping the squad just enough to finish second overall. Tigard will have a chance to exact its revenge at the state meet this weekend, however.

The 6A state meet will be held on Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene. Gates will open at 9 a.m., with tickets costing $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Fleskes said the team is aiming to improve on last year's 12th place performance, and a Top 5 finish is the target.

'We're a better team than last year,' she said. 'We're faster and we're deeper. We'd like to do better than we did last year, but we've got our eye on a medal. It's not out of the question.'

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