Willins returns, Westview boys cross country wins
This was where Nathan Willins was supposed to be — running side-by-side with Jesuit's best and among some of the state's top runners at the Bill Chapman Invitational on Aug. 31.
For two-and-half miles, the Westview senior stayed right with the elite pack, leaning on the tedious training and conditioning he'd dedicated himself to over the summer to remain in the hunt. Even with 800 meters to go, Willins fell back a bit, but was right on the leader's heels, a shot to shock the state still in view.
However, as Willins ran out of the forest at Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro, the Wildcat team captain's body gave out on him completely. He took a step, yet couldn't muster the strength to summon another stride and fell to the ground.
Willins got up, tried to run, and toppled again. By then, race officials and volunteers had sprinted to Willins' side and helped him get off the course.
"That was terrible, probably one of the worst feelings of my life, not being able to push any further just by pushing as hard as I could," Willins said. "I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't feel anything. I fell to the ground and then everything was a little blurry."
What caused the incident is still unknown. Willins took a bunch of medical tests and did some blood work to try and get a diagnosis, but the results came back inconclusive, thankfully, meaning nothing major transpired on the course. Willins suspects his fall was the by-product of pure exhaustion, emptying his tank to a degree few competitors ever touch. He sat out Westview's next two meets, resting, recuperating and rehashing the first 16 or so minutes of the BCI. With his health intact, Willins hopes to finish what he started against Jesuit and use that experience as a vault into a great senior season.
"I feel like I was racing really well (at the BCI)," Willins said. "And I don't think I'll collapse again, so I think that's a good sign that I was able to stick with (the Jesuit runners) for the entire race, pretty much. I'm looking for one of the top spots in Metro, for sure. And we're trying to make it to state as a team this year. I made it last year (as an individual) and hope to again."
With Willins on the sidelines in street clothes two weeks ago, the Wildcats couldn't put the necessary heat on Sunset and Aloha to truly challenge two of the Metro League's top programs. Yet, Willins made his triumphant return on Sept 20, winning Westview's home three-way meet in 17 minutes, 23 seconds against Liberty and Beaverton. While two weeks doesn't seem that long of a time span in the grand scheme of things, Willins had been chomping at the bit to get back and compete again.
"I have to get back in the groove of racing a little more, but it felt good to run and win," Willins. "I hate sitting on the sidelines. Last week against Aloha and Sunset I was thinking I could've helped push our guys more. I missed racing, I missed being out there. I like the team aspect. I like being able to run with my friends. And it's all about personal development and bettering myself through the sport."
With their leader back and looking just as strong and fit as ever against Beaverton and Liberty, Westview will most definitely be a factor in the district race. A large pack of Wildcats that included Leon Farhaj, Max Lin, Zack Patton, Samuel Janasik, Justin Ha, David Grasper and Brandon Christensen finished sixth-through-12th against Beaverton. Westview beat Liberty 25-53 and the Beavers 24-63.
"I think it's all mental," Willins said. "We have the physical strength to do it. Our guys are fit and strong. We just have to get out of our own heads a little bit and focus on the race. We have big goals for districts. We want to get second or third in Metro."
Westview senior Keizo Morgan stayed a stride or two behind Willins the whole way against Beaverton and Liberty. The two seniors worked hard over the summer to improve themselves individually and help Westview get closer to Aloha and Sunset in the unofficial team rankings.
"Both of us are captains, so we've definitely stepped up into a leadership role," Willins said. "We have the most experience racing on the team and try to pass that on to the rest of the team."
Beaverton seniors Conner Graziano (17:38) and Tre Hamilton (17:39) took fourth and fifth overall for the Beavers. Graziano said he tried to stick with Willins and Morgan for as long as he could with the hope of making a move over the final mile. And though the Wildcat duo eventually spaced away from the field, Graziano and the Beavers are confident they can compete in Metro.
"There hasn't been a race where I felt like I did poorly, yet," Graziano said. "In practice, we try to take it seriously and not take it easy. I know Jesuit and Sunset have pretty good teams. It's a pretty hard league overall. We're running against some of the best teams in the country, so it's pretty cool to run against that type of competition."