by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Riley Werner and Lakeridge’s Dave Marks run side-by-side down the home stretch at last week’s district cross-country meet. Werner wound up nosing out Marks for the victory but both runners were clocked with identical times. In the team event, the Lakeridge boys squeaked past Lake Oswego to earn their first trip to state in 21 years.

Nineteen-eighty-five. That was the last time Lakeridge sent its boys cross-country team to the state meet. That was before any of the members of the current Lakeridge team were born.

But the 21-year drought will come to an end on Saturday when the Pacer boys compete in the state meet in Eugene. The Pacers accomplished the rare feat in grand fashion when they edged out rival Lake Oswego for second place at last week's district meet at Clackamas Community College.

As expected, Clackamas won the meet in convincing fashion, beating out Lakeridge by a 42 to 62 margin. Lake Oswego was another four points back in third place. Only the top two teams from districts qualify for the state meet.

Coming into the meet, most non-partisan observers assumed that Lake Oswego would grab the second spot. After all, the Lakers beat Lakeridge by nine points in a dual meet the week before.

But Lakeridge coach Ken James wouldn't let his troops get down.

'I knew if we could get things together, we had a shot,' the coach said.

The biggest obstacle that Lakeridge had to deal with was Lake Oswego's Riley Werner. He has seemingly gotten better with each passing week and had established himself as the favorite by the end of the regular season.

As expected, Werner could be found at the front of the pack at last Wednesday's race. He wound up winning the event with an impressive time of 16:06. But it wasn't an easy victory because Lakeridge's Dave Marks was with Werner step for step for pretty much the entire race.

The two were neck to neck as they hit the track for the final lap, and they essentially stayed in that position to the tape. Werner wound up winning the race by a whisker but both runners awarded the same finishing time.

Lake Oswego then picked up some valuable points when Elijah Greer crossed the finish line in seventh place with a time of 16:27. Then, the attention turned to Lakeridge as the Pacers had three runners finish almost in succession.

The first one in that group for Lakeridge was Alex Anderson, who took 11th place with a time of 17:42. Two runners later, the Pacers' Cole Flora crossed the line to claim the No. 13 spot and teammate Andrew Balter was one second behind in the 14th position.

After Lake Oswego's Alex Martin and Chris Caldwell claimed the 15th and 16th spots, it then became a race between each team's No. 5 runner. And Lakeridge won that showdown as the Pacers' Rishi Rihki claimed the No. 22 spot while Lake Oswego's Issac Hayden finished at No. 27.

Almost everyone established a personal season record for the Pacers and that's what it took to avenge the previous week's loss to the Lakers.

'It's really hard to get all five guys to run their best race of the year. And when it happens, it's great,' James said.

Of course, Marks was the catalyst for the Pacers' effort.

'Our other guys kind of fed off him,' the coach said. 'Then, if you know your teammates are doing well, that motivates you to do even better.'

Another key for the Pacers was Anderson's effort, James said. Not only did the sophomore run his fastest race of the year but he also finished ahead of a number of runners who had beaten him during the regular season. His 11th-place finish was three spots ahead of where Marks finished last year as a sophomore.

Now, the Pacers will face their toughest test of the year when they meet a number of talent-laden teams at the state meet. James knows it will be difficult to bring home a trophy.

'But there's quite a few teams that are at the level that we are,' the coach noted. 'Our guys are really young, so we're going to get some good experience down there … I'm just really happy with the improvement we had this year.'

The girls race, meanwhile, provided even more heartbreak for Lake Oswego. The Lakers also finished third in that race, but just one point behind second-place Clackamas.

Lake Oswego's Shelley Chestler and Lauren Ohlson had outstanding performances in that meet, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, with times of 19:47 and 20:02. That earned both of them a trip to Saturday's state meet. In addition, the Lakers' Emily Fuller finished 13th while Maura Throckmorton took 18th and Kathleen Preston was another spot back in 19th.

That seemingly should have been enough to put Lake Oswego in second place, especially since Throckmorton and Preston both finished ahead of Clackamas' fourth and fifth runners. But the Lakers couldn't counteract Clackamas' Claire Michel, who won the race by a 61-second margin over the second-place finisher, Milwaukie's Erin McLaughlin.

The best showing for the Lakeridge girls came from Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, who finished 10th with a time of 20:16. It's been an up-and-down cross-country career for Aldinger-Gibson, who finished second in the district meet as a freshman. But since then, she's battled a series of injuries and illnesses that kept her from running at peak form until late this season.

Oddly enough, while Aldinger-Gibson was returning to her old form, many of her teammates found themselves sidelined this season with an assortment of injuries.

'Our girls were riddled with injuries all season,' James said. 'Never once did we have our whole team together … We just never had any consistency.'

The Pacers also got a good performance from Kelly Bartz, who took 14th place with a time of 20:37. That was a promising showing from a freshman who James said could be the backbone of the team for the next three years.

Also scoring points for the Pacers were Kayla Glanville (who finished 31st), Archelle Grajeda (35th) and Alissa Vigo (36th).

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