Glencoe, Century and Hilhi will send one runner apiece

Braanna Weber and Kari Zickel are state meet rookies, while Lauren Lykins is a state meet veteran.

Thanks to standout performances at last Thursday’s Pacific Conference district meet, all three runners will toe the start line Saturday at the state cross-country championships. The Class 6A girls race is slated to begin at 2:25 p.m. at Lane Community College in Eugene.

Though all three girls raced the same 5-kilometer course at Clackamas Community College last week to book their trips to Eugene, they took different paths to get to the state meet.

Weber, a Century junior who placed third at the district meet, and Lykins, a Hillsboro senior who was sixth, both knew by the postrace awards ceremony that they had qualified.

Zickel, a Glencoe junior who finished ninth, had to wait a little longer.

Weber likely cannot be considered anything but a natural at running. She qualified for the Class 6A track and field state meet in each of her first two years of high school. This fall, she added cross-country to her repertoire and added another state meet qualification to her burgeoning athletic resume after finishing behind McMinnville’s Whitney Rich and Forest Grove’s Rubi Vergara-Grindell last week.

“It’s just pretty exciting,” Weber said. “It’s my first year, so I kind of went out and just gave it all I got, hoping to get to state, and I guess what I had was good enough.”

Weber said she had been hoping for a top-five finish, as she thought a couple of girls on qualifying teams would also place highly. The top two teams and top four individuals on nonqualifying teams advance to the state meet.

With a third-place finish, there was no doubt that Weber, who finished in 20 minutes, 0.36 seconds, behind Rich (19:31.33) and Vergara-Grindell (19:48.88), would be going to state. She posted the best-ever result by a Jaguar girl in the Pacific Conference, as well as the top finish since Summer Cano won the Northwest Oregon Conference meet in 2009, when Century was still in Class 5A.

While Weber has never experienced the state meet atmosphere, she does have the benefit of having raced at Lane already, having participated in September’s Northwest Classic, which is staged at the same site on a similar course. She said she is hoping for a time in the 19:30s or 19:40s.

“I really like that course, actually, because it’s two big loops, and I like that there’s not a lot of uphills,” Weber said.

As for Lykins, she has run in the state meet before — three times, in fact. Her sixth-place district meet result (20:17.95) secured her fourth consecutive trip to Eugene, especially impressive since she has qualified each time as an individual. The Spartans multisport star finished fifth, sixth and third, respectively, in her three previous district cross-country meets. Her best finish so far in Eugene came last year, when she was 46th.

“I guess it went fine,” Lykins said about the district meet. “I didn’t necessarily run the time that I wanted to, but I’m happy that I made it to state.”

With Tigard (48 points) and Forest Grove (58) being the two team representatives from the conference and placing three runners ahead of Lykins, a fourth consecutive state meet was assured, though she admitted to having some nerves regarding the results.

“I was just trying to stick in it so I could qualify, but it was pretty scary,” Lykins said. “When I got done, I wasn’t really sure if I had qualified, because it all came down to which teams won.”

Lykins has been building up to the championship portion of the cross-country season. With commitments to a traveling basketball team this past summer, she did not train much then, and a bout of Achilles tendonitis hampered her a bit early in the fall.

But she recovered in time to get right back where she has always been: one of the best in the league and Eugene-bound, for one final time.

“It’s my last race, so I’m going to try to go out with a bang, try to place pretty high,” she said.

Zickel left Thursday’s meet in the hard-luck spot for individuals. She ran well to finish ninth in 20:37.66, her second-fastest time ever.

But she was the odd girl out as the fifth individual from the conference, behind Rich, Weber, Lykins and Newberg’s Debora DeLeon, who had taken seventh just 11 seconds ahead of Zickel for the final individual berth.

But on Monday morning, Glencoe coach Dennis Rice got a phone call from Tigard athletic director Alan Boschma: Rich, who had repeated as champion at the district meet, has a stress fracture and cannot compete. As the next eligible individual, Zickel gets to slide into her spot.

“Kari ran a phenomenal race. She was in front of that pack the entire race,” Rice said. “That’s the best race she’s ever ran. I’m really excited for her to have the opportunity to go down and represent Glencoe at state. How cool is that?”

For Saturday’s race, Rice is taking a no-pressure approach. That makes sense, as it worked out great last week.

“I think one of the reasons Kari ran such a great race last Thursday was because she didn’t have pressure to go out and try to get that spot,” Rice said. “She was just running just to run and see how well she could race. We’re going to take that same attitude. … We accomplished our goals. Now we just get to go race and have fun.”

Note: Glencoe (130 points), Century (132) and Hilhi (158) finished fourth, fifth and seventh, respectively, at the district meet in the team race. Other top individuals from the Hillsboro schools were Glencoe’s Megan Lince (19th, 21:17.54), Hilhi’s Alana Baldwin-Joiner (22nd, 21:31.05) and Century’s Valerie Bittleston (26th, 21:47.97).

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