Tom Lonergan enthusiastic about first year coaching Woodburn cross country

by: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn freshman Gustavo Lopez (right) paces a trio of runners at Bush Pasture Park Friday. Lopez finished the race with the fourth-fastest time and has been one of the Bulldogs best young cross country members this season.With classes adjourned for most of last week, the Woodburn cross country team was able to schedule a trip to Salem Friday morning to participate in a staggered start run at Bush Pasture Park, hosted by Sprague High School.

The annual event pits boys and girls varsity and junior varsity teams against each other in one full race where runners are divided into tiers that start at staggered times. The race is normally only open to local Salem teams due to the 9 a.m. start time, said Woodburn coach Tom Lonergan, but due to a state inservice day, the Bulldogs and the Regis Rams were able to make the trip.

The Woodburn boys placed third out of the four teams with 52 points, behind Sprague (33) and McKay (45), but in front of Regis (105).

Leading the Bulldogs was freshman Gustavo Lopez, who finished fourth overall with a time of 18:03. The successful race from the Lopez was one of several in a string of positive performances for the young runner, said Lonergan.

“He’s gotten better and better,” said Lonergan. “He could be challenging Placido soon here.”

Placido Salvador has been Woodburn’s top runner for most of this season, though he did not finish Friday’s race in Salem. In Salvador’s previous contest on Oct. 5 at the Harrier Classic, the senior took first overall in the junior/senior division with a time of 17:32. At the same race, Lopez also took first in the freshman/sophomore division with a time of 17:53.

While the two divisions were a step below the varsity level, Lonergan said he wanted his top runners to get a feel for pacing themselves while maintaining a lead.

“They’ve never run ahead,” said Lonergan. “They’ve never been in the lead.”

by: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior Eddie Bravo placed fourth overall at Fridays race, clocking in at 18:25.7 for his highest-placing finish of the season.As the Bulldogs near the end of the season, Salvador represents the best opportunity for Woodburn to send a runner to the state championship race in Lane Community College in Eugene. The senior has placed 15th or better in every race he’s finished this season.

The two top-scoring teams at the Mid-Willamette district meet advance to state, along with the five fastest times from individual runners from outside the top two teams. Lonergan expects Salvador to challenge for one of the five at-large berths, though he would not be surprised if Lopez made a push for a spot in state as well, he said.

Overall, Lonergan has been impressed with his team during his first season of coaching cross country. The long-time Woodburn tennis coach filled the vacated position this season and was able to use some of his clout as a tennis coach and physical education teacher to convince some first-time runners to join the cross country team this season.

Lopez and Alejandro Madrigal have been impressive freshman runners for the boys team, while girls like Maricela Vidal, Luz Perfecto, Marlen Molina and Erika Hernandez are all attempting the sport for the first time.

“They’re in my PE classes,” said Lonergan. “They’ve never been runners before, but they will be good runners in the future if they train.”

While Lonergan would be pleased to send a representative to state, his ultimate goal is to introduce new student athletes to extracurricular activities and develop commitment to physical fitness outside of the classroom.

“I’m definitely seeing some people who are getting in a lot better shape,” said Lonergan. “It’s tough for some of them to make a commitment. Some of these (athletes), they’re not used to that…but they’re doing a good job.”

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