The Pioneers look to young runners in Mitchells absence

by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Its possible Sandys lost its top runner, Isaac Mitchell, center, for the season with a stress fracture. He could return by the last week of the season, but the Pioneers are hoping some young runners will step up.

Sandy was in the toughest position for any team — the first team out for a trip to state. The boys cross country team finished third in the Northwest Oregon Conference, just missing out on the two allotted spots for state.

But the Pioneers were a young team, and for all the disappointment, there was solace in knowing they’d have another chance in 2012.

Although they couldn’t foresee chasing state without their top runner.

Junior Isaac Mitchell, who posted the NWOC’s eighth best time last season, received a possible stress fracture prior to competition, says head coach Anouxa Vixathep. And now his season is in jeopardy.

“I’m thinking he’s done for the season,” Vixathep says. “It’s really tough for Isaac because he would be one of the guys challenging for that individual championship at the district meet.”

The good news is most of Sandy’s top runners from last year are back, with the exception of Collin Bates. That includes Blake Thompson and Jimmy Fraiser, as well as Brody White and Kennedy Salveter, who are also playing soccer this fall.

But despite many returners, the team is still young, and with Mitchell out, the Pioneers will lean more on their underclassmen.

“We have a young freshman and sophomore group that is really talented and not too far behind, which will be really good for us in the next couple of years,” Vixathep says.

In particular, three sophomores — Marques Gatchell, Sebastian Galvin and Clay Westbrooke — joined the team this year, and after pre-season training, Vixathep believes they could be critical additions.

“They all had a really great cross country camp,” he says. “They ran with the lead group the whole time.”

After the summer, there was still the question of how they would race.

For Westbrooke, he’s done his best to create a race scenario in practice, but he knew he’d have to feel it out in a real meet.

“I think it will be a little more stressful, a lot quicker pace,” he says. “I make sure I start out strong and stay with the pack. But I’ll also make sure I have enough energy to kick at the end.”

The first couple of races this year also will be a learning experience for Vixathep.

“They’ve never run a cross country race before, so it’s hard for me to say how they’ll handle that,” Vixathep says. “You’re not going to replace Isaac right away, but we’ll have seven runners who are pretty solid.

“Before we probably had a pack and then Isaac. Now we’ll have a little bit bigger pack.”

In the early part of the season, the sophomores have filled in nicely, especially Gatchell, who ran Sandy’s fourth best time (18:20.1) at the NWOC District Preview on Sept. 12, and again at the Saxon XC Invite last Saturday.

The Pioneers took eighth out of 16 teams at that meet.

While Sandy can’t replace Mitchell, Gatchell is helping to soften the blow.

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