Valley Catholic comes back from last year's second to win in '11
by: Jaime Valdez GOING UP — Valley Catholic’s Connor Garcia (left) races to fifth at the Class 3A state meet on Saturday in Eugene.

EUGENE - Bigger, better, stronger, faster.

The Valley Catholic boys cross country team was all that and more on Saturday at the Class 3A/2A/1A state meet at Lane Community College.

The Valiants, already District 1 champions, did that one better on Saturday, running to their first-ever state championship with 73 points, while second-place Pleasant Hill was well back at 106 and third-place Union at 119.

'It's really cool to be able to say I'm on a state championship team,' said senior Connor Garcia, a four-year mainstay for the Valiants who ran to fifth place with a finishing time of 16 minutes, 29 seconds. 'This year was really great. Everyone earned it.'

'I don't know if I have words to explain it,' said sophomore Cooper Roach, who ran to 12th place at 16:57. 'It feels great to be able to win a state championship. I think it's a pretty important day in Valley Catholic history.'

For his part, Valiants coach Tommy Manning said that Saturday's victory was the result of many years of effort and hard work.

'This victory was a culmination of a lot of hard work,' Manning said. 'If someone four years ago had told me this group of guys would be state champions, I would not have believed them. It is obviously a very special for us.'

Garcia was the lead runner in the Valiants' championship effort, but the rest of the Valley Catholic team stepped up big-time in Saturday's rainy conditions.

Roach crossed the finish line 18 seconds after Garcia, and he was followed closely by senior Andy Holstrom (14th in 17:01) - who recovered from an early-race fall and came back strong - and senior Danny Hernandez (17th in 17:10), two other long-term members of the Valley Catholic program.

'Andy and Connor have always been front runners, but the way the other guys stepped up this season was very impressive,' Manning said. 'Danny Hernandez and Anthony Alfieri have come so far in the past two years.'

Senior Aidan McLeod came home next in 41st at 17:58, followed by Alfieri (43rd in 18:00) and sophomore Sam Teague (60th in 18:48).

'Me, Anthony and Andy all came together in middle school and started running track together back then,' Garcia said. 'It's really special to be the first team to win state. We built it from the ground up.'

The Valiants' win also satisfied a hunger that the team had carried since last year when it finished second at state to Nyssa. That victory didn't come easily, however. Pleasant Hill followed the lead of Nicholas Cooper (he was eighth at 16:39) to challenge VC, and put its next four varsity runners between the 28th and 39th spots overall.

But it wasn't enough this day. All seven Valley Catholic runners finished higher than they were initially projected, and Teague set a personal best in the day's difficult conditions.

'We thought we could win it with an average day, so I knew we'd win with a special day,' Garcia said.

'We were nervous because we knew we were the pre-race favorites,' Roach said. 'But we just left everything out there on the course.'

Girls Race

The Valiant girls had huge goals in mind for their state meet run too, and while they didn't achieve the heights that the boys team did, they were still happy with their sixth-place finish.

Valley Catholic, the District 1 champ, finished with 139 points and trailed just Union (80 points), Catlin Gabel (124), Kennedy (126), St. Mary's (131) and Southwest Christian (132) in the final standings.

'I am very proud of this year's girls,' said Valley Catholic coach Eric Berge. 'This is the hardest working group I've ever coached.'

Sophomore Annika Holstrom led the way for VC on Saturday, finishing 19th in 21:04, while junior Sophia Chau was close behind in 21st at 21:18.

'Annika Holstrom had a great race,' Berge said. 'She always comes through in big meets.'

Junior Josephine Chau crossed next in 32nd at 21:45, followed by senior Autumn Davis (53rd at 22:37), sophomore Grace Mannen (54th at 22:42), sophomore Morgan McDougal (73rd at 23:29), and freshman Fiona Walker (85th at 24:30).

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