We're only three weeks into the season, but this is already shaping up to be one of the best cross-country seasons in recent memory.
Running fans got a taste of things to come at the Lakeridge Invite at picturesque McIver Park last Wednesday. It was a perfect setting for a race, but the running proved to be even better.
Some outstanding times were turned in all around but the highlight of the day had to be the boys' varsity race. For a while, it looked as though there would be a logjam at the front that would carry all the way to the finish line.
By the stretch run, though, it turned into a thrilling two-man shootout between Dave Marks of Lakeridge and Jacob Goertz of Oregon City. Goertz set a blistering pace and led most of the race. With a sizeable lead heading into the final 100 meters, it appeared Goertz would coast home to victory.
But Marks turned an almost certain second-place finish into a victory when he mounted an incredible kick to catch Goertz at the tape. Both runners were clocked in a time of 15:58, but Marks claimed the first-place ribbon with his surge at the end.
'It felt really good,' Marks said while trying to catch his breath after the race. 'During the race I wasn't feeling that great, but I just had to stay with him because I knew I could take him in the kick.'
Through the first 3,000 meters or so, Goertz had to hold off a pack of strong runners that included Elijah Greer, Alex Martin and Chris Caldwell of Lake Oswego, plus two of Marks' teammates - Alex Anderson and Rishi Rikhi - and Tualatin's Timothy Plunkett and Kevin Oliver.
Then, Goertz made his move and he gradually began to pull away - to the point that it seemed questionable whether anyone could catch him on McIver's fast track.
As he rounded the next to last turn, Goertz appeared to have an almost insurmountable lead on Marks, and everyone else was even further behind. Despite his deficit, Marks refused to give in.
'He made a move with about a mile or a mile and quarter (to go), and he made about a 20-meter gap on me,' Marks noted. 'But I kept that (margin), then started closing in the last 800 meters and just got him in the end.'
The 15:58 time that Marks recorded was easily a career best, eclipsing the previous mark of 16:06 that he set at last year's district meet. Coming into last Wednesday's race, Marks probably wouldn't have guessed that it would be his big day.
'I was not at my top form,' he said. 'My legs were feeling a little fatigued. And the ground (at McIver) is pretty hard to run on - a lot of holes.'
Finishing third in the race was Greer with a time of 16:38. That was the same time he recorded the week before when he won the Tualatin Invite, but it's still 33 seconds slower than his best time from last year.
Afterward, Greer said he didn't feel his best, but he wasn't too worried. He said he plans to improve his times to the point that he's running his best by the district meet in late October.
Finishing in a virtual dead heat with Greer was Plunkett, who was awarded fourth place. Martin was close behind and claimed the No. 5 spot with a time of 16.39. Oliver took sixth while Caldwell was seventh with a time of 16:44.
Anderson and Rikhi finished ninth and 11th, respectively. Meanwhile, Lake Oswego's James Ratliff was 13th while Lakeridge's Kevin Pearson and Seth Troisi took the 14th and 15th spots.
Meanwhile, the girls' race was won in convincing fashion by Lake Oswego sophomore Tate Murray, who was competing in just her second cross-country meet.
'I really love to run and I just train hard and have fun in the races,' she said after the event.
Even though Murray seemed to use perfect race strategy, where she let others set the pace, she said there was no secret formula to her victory.
'I like to stay with my teammate (Lauren Ohlson), and she was a really great pace setter for me for about the first 3K. And at 3K, if I feel good, I try to go for it and break away,' Murray said.
And break away she did.
'Tate is pretty talented as far as her endurance goes,' Lake Oswego coach Eric Lider said. 'But when she got done, she said, 'that was just fun.' … She's kind of an untapped talent, but we think she's going to have a really good season for us.'
Murray was clocked with a winning time of 19:42. The second-place finisher was Emily Wheeler of Tualatin with a time of 20:06 and her teammate, Kelsey Stilson, was third at 20:10.
Ohlson wound up claiming the fourth spot with a time of 20:26 while Lake Oswego teammate Shelley Chestler was fifth with a 20:46 mark. Those finishes were encouraging for Lider.
'(Ohlson) is getting consistent … and the last half of the race is when Shelley (Chestler) really turned it on. It was the Shelley that we know,' the Lake Oswego coach said.
Tualatin managed to win the race by placing five runners in the top 10. But Lake Oswego was second, thanks to Murray, Ohlson and Chestler. Plus, the Laker girls claimed sixth of the next nine spots with strong showings by Kathleen Preston, Emily Fuller, Ali Steinbacher, Molly Ponkevitch, Claire Egli and Maura Throckmorton.
The top finisher for the Lakeridge girls was Kelly Bartz, who took 12th with a time of 21:39. Teammate Zoe Newman was two spots back at 22:08.
Afterward, both local coaches were ecstatic over the way their teams performed.
'We ran pretty well and Dave (Marks) ran really, really well,' Lakeridge coach Ken James said. 'It's a pretty fast course, but the surface is pretty uneven, so he did a great job … With about 100 meters to go, he was still about 10 meters behind, so he's got a really good kick.
'But the thing that helped us today is our No. 4 and 5 guys really moved up … Two weeks ago at Wilsonville, they were two minutes behind (the team's three leaders). Now, (Pearson and Troisi) have basically closed a whole minute or so. That's really going to help our team.'
In the girls' race, it helped having the Tualatin runners there. They seemed to push all of the top runners to faster times.
'I think we ran much better (than the previous week), in comparison with Tualatin. And Tualatin is good. They're very good,' Lider said.