Central boys returns in tact, and St. Marys brings back 6A state champ Paige Rice

by: THE OUTLOOK: FILE PHOTO - Greshams Kennedy Martin, left, was the district runner-up in 2011, leading the Gophers to a spot in the state meet.

The cross country trails remain the domain of the private schools with Central Catholic set to dominate on the boys side and St. Mary’s ready to run away with another girls title this fall.

But that leaves a logjam of East County teams chasing the league’s second spot to state and a November bus ride to Eugene.

Central Catholic finished second at state last year 21 points behind South Eugene. The Rams should have a chance to make up that gap, as the Axemen graduated their top three runners, while Central returns all seven racers that competed at state. That includes junior Kyle Thompson — the reigning 6A champ.

St. Mary’s was fifth last year, but remains a big-school contender as long as reigning champion Paige Rice remains on the trails. The key for the Blues will be tightening the gap between their all-star and the rest of the pack. Last year at state, nearly two minutes passed from the time Rice hit the finish line to the time another blue shirt came through the chute.

Following are previews of the five East County teams …

Barlow Bruins

The Barlow boys hold the inside track for that last state berth, returning a handful of runners from last year’s squad that place fifth in Eugene. Leading the charge is senior Jackson Haselnus, who came in 15th at state in 2011.

“He’s a competitor who rises to the challenge,” Bruins coach Jim Babson said. “He doesn’t like to lose, and he’ll really get after it.”

Haselnus opened the season with a runner-up finish at a Crossover Preview race Wednesday that featured more than 100 runners out of the Three Rivers League and the Mount Hood Conference.

Seniors Auston Burns and Austin Kettleson give Barlow a solid lead pack, while Manny Garcia and Tommy Franklin offer depth. Franklin was the first No. 5 runner out of the MHC to cross the finish line at this week’s preview meet, covering the 5K course in 18:40.24.

The Barlow girls bring a deep lineup to the trails in hopes of catching Gresham for that last spot to state this season. Leading the way are seniors Ann Jensen and Rachel Collmer along with junior Leah Norquist.

“We have 10 girls who are really pretty even out there, and that’s a nice problem to have,” Babson said. “When you have a big pack like that it’s really effective. It lets you break up the runners from the other teams.”

Centennial Eagles

The Centennial boys could be the surprise of the league this season after finishing in the middle of the pack last year.

The Eagles bring a senior-loaded lineup to the trails, led by Taylor Hybl who appears healthy this season after battling injuries through much of his prep career. That included a collapsed lung that kept him out for a month of the track season last spring.

“He’s healthy and running really well right now,” Centennial coach Greg Letts said. “His workouts have been sharp and his speed has always been there. We’re working with him on the middle stages of his race, but you don’t have to worry about him at the end. He can get up and go.”

Joe Spina and Josh Dempsey round out the team’s lead group. All three of those runners participated in the Steens Mountain running camp over the summer, Letts said.

“This team is really motivated with a high work ethic,” Letts said. “They have shown tremendous improvement.”

Centennial didn’t field a girls team in 2011, but is back this fall with 13 new girls out for early-season practices. Leading the way are sisters Maria and Anna David.

“We have some depth now, but a lot of these girls have never run before, so our goal is to learn the sport,” Letts said.

Gresham Gophers

The Gophers broke through for a state spot last year, edging Barlow by 16 points at last year’s district meet to take second place. The Gophers appear ready to make a return trip to Eugene with its top two racers returning in seniors Kennedy Martin and Haley McDonald.

“They make a great 1-2 punch,” Gresham coach Kylee Hutchins said. “They push each other. Kennedy goes out fast and tries to take charge from the beginning, while Haley is more conservative pushing her way up throughout the race.”

Martin finished second at district last year.

Senior Eric Johnsen leads the boys team after breaking the 18-minute barrier at district last year.

“He trained all summer and wants to run his best season as a senior,” Hutchins said.

Adding support is senior Juan Fernandez, who raced for the first time last fall.

“He’s learned a lot from that experience and is starting to understand how to push through that pain threshold,” Hutchins said.

David Douglas Scots

The David Douglas girls team finished on the bottom of the district standings last year, but a youth movement could zoom the Scots up the ladder in 2012. The team has three rookies listed among its top five, led by Kennedy Allen who ran a 10:47 in the 3,000 as an eighth-grader at Floyd Light last spring — a mark that would set the school record at David Douglas.

“She can just go forever,” Scots coach Cameron Cross said. “She likes to get out with that lead pack and keep on pace.”

Kennedy came in third at Wednesday’s preview race, covering the 5K course in 19:36.87 and beating a pack of runners from St. Mary’s.

Sophomore Brynne Merkley was also among the top-15 finishers.

The David Douglas boys look to sophomore Josh Killebrew to pace the way. An 800-meter runner during the track season, he is looking to build his endurance for the 3-mile distance.

Reynolds Raiders

The Raiders are the most likely team to challenge the Barlow boys for a state berth after placing two runners in the top 10 at Wednesday’s Preview meet. Junior Ian Stevens is the team’s pace setter, while senior Brandon Raleigh in not far back.

The key for the Raiders is to shrink the gap between Raleigh and the support pack, which was more than a minute apart at the Preview.

On the girls side, Aubrey Applegate, Sierra Johnston and Emily Trosino formed the team’s lead pack at the Preview meet.

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