by: CORY MIMMS - Kennedy senior Dalton Susee, left, stays just ahead of Catlin Gabels Max Fogelstrom to finish 16th at the 3A/2A/1A cross country state championships in Eugene last Saturday.Saturday marked the fourth straight year that Kennedy senior Dalton Susee raced at the 3A/2A/1A cross country State Championship meet in Eugene. It was also the third year for junior Lauren Stokley, and although both runners finished the day with their best times ever at the Lane Community College course, head coach Steve Ritchie admits both athletes left the race hoping for more.

“Dalton and Lauren were both shooting for top 10,” said Ritchie. “There was a little disappointment there that they didn’t make it, but I think they felt good about their effort and their race.”

Stokley finished 17th overall in 20:42 as the Trojans’ only representative from the girls team. Her time was a 24-second improvement over her previous best at the course last year, but only one spot higher than her 18th-place finish in 2012.

Susee crossed the finish line with a time of 17:06, but his 16th-place time was actually three places below where he finished last year. The placement of Kennedy’s top runners was indicative of just how strong the level of competition was this season, said Ritchie.

“Obviously (there was) some pretty tough competition and pretty deep this year,” said Ritchie. “It’s just a real strong year in terms of depth at our level.”

That depth makes it a particularly difficult race for Susee, Stokley and the rest of the Trojans. With so many of the state’s best runners competing at one venue, the pace of the race is much more strenuous compared to anything else during the season.

“Kids have to make a decision of are you going to go out with the leaders, or are you going to hang back a little bit and try to make up ground later,” said Ritchie. “It’s just a lot of stress on runners, and mentally it’s a very tough race.”

Joining Susee on the boys team were fellow teammates Adrian Parra (18th, 17:08), Noe Jines (50th, 18:13), John Savage (61st, 18:31), Kyle Kinyon (80th, 19:16), Brent Lang (85th,19:31) and Victor Garcia (105th, 21:34). Together, the Kennedy boys placed seventh out of 14 teams with 181 team points.

Susee entered the race on the heels of recovering from a strained hamstring that limited his ability to train leading up to Saturday, said Ritchie. Even with the injury, the Kennedy coach was impressed with how Susee handled himself.

“I thought that Dalton ran a really smart race,” said Ritchie. “The placement is what it is, but I thought he ran well.”

In addition to Susee, fellow seniors Savage and Lang participated in their final races for Kennedy. The seniors represent three of the team’s top five runners, making it difficult transition for the coming 2014 season to find new runners to replace the experienced athletes.

“They all had good years and did really well at state,” Ritchie said. “John had a pretty good race, and so did Brent. Those guys have made a lot of progress, so I think they felt really good about how they finished their careers.”

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