by: Dan Brood, 
Junior Elijah Greer got the 2007 cross-country season off to a fast start when he won the Tualatin Invite last Wednesday.

Probably the best form of advertising is word of mouth, and it's a skill that several members of the Lake Oswego cross-country team seemed to have mastered.

Coach Eric Lider, who is now retired from teaching and spends limited time on campus during the day, decided this year to leave most of the recruiting to his athletes. The kids took their job seriously as they used the word-of-mouth technique to recruit teammates.

The result was a record turnout of 96 runners for this year's team. That shattered the team's previous record of 69, which was set two years ago.

'I'm a little overwhelmed,' Lider said. 'Now, you have to think about everything you do when you're organizing practices … Even getting on the bus (for meets) takes 15 minutes now instead of five.'

The recruiting effort was certainly helped by the fact that Lake Oswego has had an elite program throughout Lider's tenure there. So the athletes know they're going to be part of a winning team. Plus, Lider has a no-cut policy. If you turn out, you get to compete. But more than anything, Lider makes it a requirement that the kids have fun along the way.

'Our kids have fun,' the coach admitted. 'That's always been a real big priority.'

Having fun doesn't mean slacking off, however. Both of Lider's teams (the boys and girls squads) are anxious to prove that they're capable of qualifying for the state meet. Both teams just barely missed securing a state berth last year and they want to make amends this season.

'Both the boys and girls are really hungry and want to make it to state,' Lider said.

Each team got the 2007 season off to a good start at last week's Tualatin Invite. The boys finished second in that race, trailing only Beaverton, while the girls were third behind South Salem and Tualatin.

Junior Elijah Greer claimed individual honors in the boys' 5,000-meter race with a winning time of 16:38, which was 11 seconds ahead of the No. 2 finisher, Daniel Friesen of Westside Christian.

'It was a pretty comfortable race for him,' Lider said of his star runner. 'He's definitely ahead of where he was last year at this time.'

During the track season last spring, Greer was virtually unbeatable in the distance races. So, it might be easy to think that Greer would be the favorite to win a state cross-country title this fall. To keep the pressure to the minimum, Lider would say only that Greer 'should be one of the top (cross-country) runners in the state.'

Greer is already being pushed by some of his teammates, especially senior Alex Martin and senior Chris Caldwell, who finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in last week's race. Martin turned in a time of 17:04 while Caldwell ran the race in 17:16.

The biggest question for Lider at this point is who will be his team's No. 4 and 5 runners. At this point, junior Issac Hayden, senior Sean Johnson, junior James Ratliff and senior David Byerly appear to be the leaders in that battle.

Plus, Lider said he has a number of potentially good runners who haven't really been tested yet. With such a large turnout, it wouldn't be surprising to see someone emerge as a major contributor from that group.

The girls team, meanwhile, finds itself in a similar situation. That team has four solid runners whom Lider knows he can count on.

The leader of that group, at least in last week's race, was sophomore Tate Murray. She didn't run cross country last year, but she turned a lot of heads when she qualified for the state track meet in the 1,500 meters.

At the Tualatin meet, Murray finished second with a time of 20:05, which left her five seconds behind the winner, Rachel Rasberry of South Salem.

'She was pretty conservative,' Lider said of Murray's approach to the race. 'But she figured it out for her first time.'

Lider also is expecting big things from a solid group of seniors, which includes Shelley Chestler, Lauren Ohlson and Emily Fuller. Chestler, who qualified as an individual for last year's state meet, is not yet in race shape, Lider said, but she still finished ninth in last week's race. Ohlson took sixth last week while Fuller was 17th.

Also pressing for one of the varsity spots will be sophomore Kathleen Preston, senior Claire Egli, senior Ali Steinbacher, junior Molly Ponkevitch and Erin Yaylali, a transfer from Miami.

'I think our girls team will be really good,' Lider said.

Last year's team missed winning the district meet by five points, but it also missed second (and final state qualifying berth) by one point.

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