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Lakeridge harriers seek another trip to state

Two-thousand-six was a year to remember for the Lakeridge cross country team, which earned a trip to state for the first time in 21 years. After getting a taste of competing in the season's biggest meet, the Pacers would like to do it again this year.

The Pacer boys are already off to a good start after finishing fourth last Friday in the Wilsonville Invitational, a meet that featured defending state champion Central Catholic. The Rams will be tough again after placing six runners among the top nine finishers. But nobody was better that day than Lakeridge's Dave Marks.

The Lakeridge senior won the meet, beating out Central Catholic's Taylor Morgan by three seconds (16:27 to 16:30). It was an impressive victory considering the fact that Morgan was the defending state champion in cross country and the defending champ in the 800-meter run in track.

'So, it was a pretty good win for Dave,' Lakeridge coach Ken James said. 'He really put in a lot of work during the summer.'

James had expected a big year from Marks, but the coach figured his star pupil's best races wouldn't come until later in the campaign.

The fact is, Marks still has room for improvement. His best time last year was the 16:06 he turned in while finishing a close second to Lake Oswego's Riley Werner at the district meet. It's interesting to note that the time Marks ran last week was approximately a minute faster than the mark he established at the same meet a year ago.

Although Marks was the star of the show last week, he was far from being a one-man team. Alex Anderson finished 10th in that meet with a time of 17:00. He led the race for the first two miles before fading near the end. And he's already within 18 seconds of his best time from last year.

Meanwhile, Rishi Rikhi was Lakeridge's No. 3 runner with a 17th-place finish and a time a 17:24. He's now just 12 seconds off his best time from last year.

'I think those (top three) guys can improve by a minute or so by the end of the season,' James said.

Under ordinary circumstances, the same probably could be said for Cole Flora, who James expects to be Lakeridge's No. 4 runner this season. But Flora couldn't compete in last week's meet and might be out until October as he recovers from an ACL tear that occurred in May.

Aside from the timing of Flora's return, the biggest question for the Pacers might be the identification of the team's No. 5 runner. At this point, it looks like that spot has come down to a battle between two sophomores - Kevin Pearson and Jason Middleton.

'They're both in kind of a learning process,' James said.

While some of the team's roster spots remain up for grabs, there's no questioning the quality of Lakeridge's schedule.

One of the high points of the schedule will be the Three Course Challenge, which will be held Sept. 22 at Camp Rilea near Seaside. With 96 teams signed up, approximately 700 runners will be competing on one of three courses, which wind through the woods, across creeks and down the beach.

'It's like the greatest spectacle of cross-country running I've ever seen,' James said.

Thanks partly to the recent success of the program, James welcomed 31 boys and 31 girls to preseason training this season. The coach said it was the largest turnout he's seen during his long tenure at the school. Part of the reason for the big turnout is running is becoming more fun than it used to be.

'The fun aspect that we put into it makes people want to come out,' the coach said.

Kelly Bartz is expected to have her share of fun this year. The sophomore runner finished eighth at last week's Wilsonville meet, and James believes she has the ability to qualify for a trip to state. She's already within 20 seconds of her best time from last year.

'She did quite a bit of training during the summer,' James said of Bartz's fast start to the 2007 season.

After Bartz, the coach isn't sure what to expect from the rest of the girls team. Sydney Baker and Zoe Newman have positioned themselves for a good showing at districts.

'But the rest of the team is really inexperienced,' James said. 'Some of them are still getting into shape.'

Because of that inexperience, James believes the girls team will probably finish somewhere near the middle of the pack in the TRL. Admittedly, it will be tough to beat West Linn, 'which is absolutely loaded,' James said. Plus, Clackamas and Lake Oswego also will field strong teams this year.