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Nyamu surges to third at state championships

Forest Grove's Murimi Nyamu turns in a surprising third-place result in Eugene

EUGENE — The race didn’t unfold the way most people expected, but in the end, Forest Grove senior Murimi Nyamu found himself right where he wanted to be.

Nyamu stayed near the front of a jumbled lead pack last Saturday at the Class 6A cross-country state championships at Lane Community College, and when the field finally started to string out in the third mile he stayed hot on the heels of eventual champion Ahmed Muhumed of West Salem and surged to a third-place finish, matching the best ever by a Viking distance runner.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACK PALMER
 - Forest Grove senior Murimi Nyamu comes down the homestretch during Saturday's Class 6A cross-country state championships.

“I’m feeling so great,” Nyamu said after crossing the tape in 15 minutes, 44 seconds. “I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming into this race. Unlike last year where I collapsed, I was able to focus and I just really wanted to finish.

“I’m so happy with a third-place finish.”

Nyamu’s effort matched the best individual finish in program history — Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski took third in 2013 — and was undoubtedly the highlight for a Forest Grove boys team that equaled last year’s 11th-place finish.

One week after running a lifetime best at the Greater Valley Conference district meet, Forest Grove sophomore Max Norman blazed to a 24th-place finish with a time of 16:24, earning honorable mention all-state status in the process.

“That’s the first time in school history that we’ve had two guys get all-state recognition,” Forest Grove head coach Adrian Shipley said. “That’s pretty big for this program.”

Senior Matt Stanich finished 81st in 17:19, junior Riley Stewart took 84th in 17:22, and junior Daniel Hernandez-Krieger was 118th in 18:15. The Vikings’ other two runners were juniors Garrett Stewart (120th, 18:21) and Hyrum Hansen (130th, 18:38).

“A decent amount of those guys were running in their first state meet, so that’s good experience for them,” Shipley said. “We’re bringing five out of seven of them back next year.”

While the future is unquestionably bright for the Vikings, on Saturday the focus was on a standout senior.

Nyamu went to the front of the pack early, and as the race wore on, no one seemed interested in taking control of the pace. At least 25 runners remained in the lead pack until after the second hill climb, when things began to stretch out.

The slow pace didn’t seem to favor Nyamu, who admitted that he doesn’t have the best finishing kick, but when Muhumed took off after the second hill, Nyamu was determined to go with him.

“At districts, Ahmed ... went after a mile and he dropped me real bad. So I was really scared of that,” Nyamu said. “In a tight pack I was worried about my finish because I don’t have a lot of speed, but I just told myself ... ‘If I can go with a mile and make it tough, then I have a chance.’

“I was really worried. I thought everybody would catch me, but I knew that I had to give my best effort there and I felt pretty decent, so that’s what I did.”

Muhumed eventually pulled away from everyone to win in 15:38, and West Linn’s Roman Ollar kicked past Nyamu to finish second in 15:40, but the Forest Grove senior was close on their heels for an unexpected top-three finish.

“Murimi is a guy who likes to go out and grind people down,” Shipley said. “He can grind out races by going out hard and having guys drop out. So for him to take third, especially in a more tactical race, that was really good. He showed a really strong last 1,000 meters.”

On the girls side, Forest Grove again matched its 2014 finish by taking 14th place as a team. Junior Ellie Schnorr led the way with a 66th-place effort in 20:20. She was followed by freshmen Elizabeth Khoury (69th, 20:28) and Hannah Aguirre (80th, 20:45), sophomore Hannah Berdahl (90th, 21:04) and junior Esther Vega (110th, 21:32). Sophomore Lucia Mendoza (121st, 22:02) and senior Lydia Gronseth (134th, 22:46) also ran for the Vikings.

“Overall, the team placing was the same as last year, but the way the kids raced was really encouraging,” Shipley said. “It was a good performance for the team down there.”

Grant senior Ella Donaghu won her third consecutive 6A girls title with a time of 17:26. She was followed by Sunset freshman Ember Stratton in 17:42.

Sunset captured the girls team title with 45 points, narrowly edging Jesuit (54). Central Catholic won the boys team title with 87 points.