Clackamas is everyone's pick to win district

CLACKAMAS - There are some new faces, but the Clackamas Cavaliers expect to field one of the best boys cross country teams in their school's history.

'This is the hardest working group I've had since I've been here,' said Clackamas coach Randy Walruff. 'It's the best team I've had at Clackamas for boys. If you look at results around the state, I don't think anyone else has three or four boys in the 16's at this point in the season. I believe we're one of the top six teams in the state.'

'My freshman year I was the eighth man on a team that won district,' said Clackamas senior co-captain Will Gordon, 'But this is the best team I've been on.'

The Cavaliers demonstrated their potential at the recent South Salem Invitational, where they won the 18-team meet, finishing four points in front of a ranked team from North Medford.

'We scored 52 points, which is a pretty low score for an 18-team invitational,' Walruff said.

'I had a 40-second PR [at the South Salem meet],' said Gordon. 'And two other guys on the team were right up there with me. Paden had a 50-second PR and Grant had a 20-second PR. Right now we've got four guys under 17 minutes, and that is amazing.'

Grant Eldridge, a junior, and senior Matthew Hutchinson also return from last year's team that finished runner-up to St. Helens at district.

Eldridge (16:19.8), Gordon and freshman John Paden crossed the finish line within seven seconds of one another at the South Salem meet, placing third, fourth and fifth respectively.

'Any one of those three could challenge for the district title [this fall],' said Walruff.

Gordon, who placed 13th at district last year, is the second top returning runner from last year - second only to Lake Oswego senior Riley Werner, who placed ninth at district in 2005.

'John Paden comes in with a successful background in junior high and Junior Olympics,' said Walruff. 'He ranks as one of the top four or five freshmen in Oregon.'

Sophomores Jeff Hopkins and Gabe Garza, and seniors Ryan Keene and Hutchinson round out this year's Cavalier top seven. Hopkins was jayvee district champion in cross country and in the 3,000-meter run last spring.

Keene, a soccer player who is competing in cross country for the first time, was one of the TRL's top 800 runners last spring. He was clocked at 1:56.4 at the 2006 district meet.

Garza, who excelled in the sprints last spring, has trained hard over the summer, according to Walruff.

Senior Austin Gladney will likely round out the Cavalier lineup when Keene has a soccer conflict.

'Our goals are to win league and bring a trophy home from state,' said Eldridge, who is team co-captain with Gordon.

After Clackamas, the race for the TRL's second berth to state appears wide open. No other team in the league has more than two runners returning from last year's district top 25.

However, as the Cavaliers learned last week in a dual meet at Lake Oswego, they will need all of their soldiers healthy to win district.

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