Forest Grove boys capture their third consecutive district cross-country title

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Forest Grove senior Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski approaches the finish line at last Thursday's Pacific Conference district cross-country meet. Lizier-Zmudzinski won a district title in 15 minutes, 45.03 seconds.The Forest Grove boys cross-country team didn’t necessarily turn in its best performance of the season, but it ran well enough to get the job done.

Led by individual champion Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski, the Vikings swept to their third consecutive Pacific Conference district meet title last Thursday at Clackamas Community College.

In a race that shaped up a bit closer than it might have looked on paper going in, Forest Grove scored 51 points to knock off Glencoe. The Crimson Tide put up 60 points to turn back McMinnville (81) and Tualatin (84) for the league’s second and final state meet berth.

Thanks to the first-place team finish, the Vikings qualified for state for the ninth time in 10 seasons. The Class 6A boys race is the final race of the day on Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene. Start time is 3 p.m.

With expectations as high as they have possibly ever been for this boys team, Forest Grove coach Sue Fleskes was honest and realistic about the squad’s performance.

“They ran all right. I think there’s more in there,” said Fleskes, who was named the Pacific Conference boys coach of the year during the post-race awards ceremony.

“I think there’s more in there for next week. We made some mistakes. We’ll have to clean that up next week.”

Steady at the front as he has been all season long, Lizier-Zmudzinski shook loose from the 2012 individual champion, McMinnville’s Nic McDaniel, early in the third mile of the race, gradually creating some separation.

The Viking senior then cruised in all alone to the finish, covering the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 45.03 seconds. Lizier-Zmudzinki — one of the runners on the short list to contend for the individual state title on Saturday — became Forest Grove’s second individual district champion in three seasons (Tyler Shipley won in 2011).

“I’m really pleased with my performance, and I’m really happy to get one,” Lizier-Zmudzinski said about the district victory.

McDaniel held on for second place in 16:08.37, just ahead of Tualatin’s Matthew Lovos (16:13.56). Glencoe senior Mason Rouches led the Tide with a fourth-place effort in 16:15:12.

Though Seth Berdahl (sixth, 16:41.75), Murimi Nyamu (10th, 16:57.05) and Archer Morgan (12th, 16:59.36) did not necessarily have their best races of the fall, they all still finished in the top 12 for the Vikings. Out of the rest of the field, only Glencoe placed its first four runners inside the top 20.

“As a team, we had pretty high expectations, and I feel like our two to four (runners) didn’t run as well as we expected,” said Nyamu, a sophomore, who got off to a bit of a slow start and had to work his way up through the field. “Our fifth guy stepped up a lot, so that helped, but individually I feel like I should have done better and it was a tough race.”

That fifth guy Nyamu mentioned was senior Aaron Orr, who continued to show improvement in his late-season return from a foot injury. He finished 22nd in 17:32.76, a personal-best time, to complete the Vikings’ scoring.

“I think if Aaron puts in a similar type of performance, maybe even a little better, we’ll have a really good shot at a trophy as long as Murimi, Seth and Archer run like they’re capable of,” Lizier-Zmudzinski observed.

Everett Fellger (31st, 17:55.48) and Joey Skeele (36th, 18:07.55) also participated in the varsity race. Junior varsity district champion Duncan Stewart (17:35.0) will replace Skeele as the Vikings’ seventh runner in Eugene.

Central Catholic and Sheldon appear to be among the front-runners for the team state title. Other trophy contenders include South Eugene, Aloha, Lincoln, West Linn, Grant and the Vikings, who have had their sights set all season on the program’s first-ever top-four finish and some state meet hardware.

Said Berdahl: “If everyone is on at one point, then things could go really well.”

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