Forest Groves girls earn an eighth-place team finish at the state cross country meet for the second year in a row

So often in sports, the greatest moments of glory do not happen during competition. Those moments come when no one is watching. Those moments happen when an athlete must search his or her soul and decide what is right for them, not as a competitor, but as a human being.

That is what happened with Forest Grove junior Emily Parker before the Class 6A state cross country meet.

The Viking team is based on competition. The fastest runners compete on the varsity no matter what their year in school. Forest Grove coach Sue Fleskes uses the district cross country meet to determine who will run at state. If a runner on the junior varsity has a better time than a runner on varsity, the JV runner earns the spot for the state meet.

Parker ran a fabulous race at districts, taking third place in the JV race with a time of 23 minutes, 33 seconds. That was enough to bump senior Jessica Steigerwald out of the top seven Viking runners. Steigerwald did not run her best at the district meet, finishing 38th in the varsity race with a time of 23:37.

Steigerwald, who had been an alternate at the state meet last season, was devastated that in her final year running cross country she would not be able to compete at the state championships.

“I had been trying to run well all season and that day was just an off day for me,” Steigerwald says. “I was really disappointed with the way I ran that day.”

After the race, Parker came to Fleskes and said that she wanted to give up her spot at state to Steigerwald.

Fleskes asked Parker to take a night to think about the decision. Parker refused to even do that.

“She said, ‘No,’” Fleskes recalls. “She felt like Jessica had been a varsity runner all season. She was determined to give up her spot.”

After considering the situation, Fleskes decided to allow Parker and Steigerwald to sort everything out themselves.

“At some point you have to step back and let the athletes as people decide how they’re going to handle it,” Fleskes says.

Parker says it was not a hard decision to make.

“It wasn’t really that difficult of a decision,” Parker says. “She deserved the spot. She was an alternate last year and she’s a senior this year. I wanted to give her another chance to run before she left.”

Fleskes went through a range of emotions from the time Parker earned the spot on varsity to the moment she gave that spot up.

“As a coach you have mixed feelings,” Fleskes says. “You’re always disappointed for the varsity person, but you’re also excited for the JV person who has been so determined and just wanted it so badly that they stepped up to take those positions.

“I felt sad for Jessica and excited for Emily. Then I was very proud for Emily, excited for Jessica, disappointed for Emily. It’s a mix of emotions. I love them (the runners) all the same.”

At the state meet in Eugene on Saturday, Steigerwald ran in place of Parker. Steigerwald finished in 103rd place with a time of 23:07. Parker allowing her to run in the race meant the world to Steigerwald.

“It really meant a lot to me,” Steigerwald says. “I was really grateful to her for doing that. It made me really happy. I went there last year as an alternate and to be able to run this year instead of being an alternate again really meant a lot to me. It was really, really fun.”

For Fleskes, Parker’s decision was more important than any time she has run this season.

“What you’re watching is growth of them as people, which goes way beyond the depth of any race that they’re going to possibly run,” Fleskes says. “Emily is such an outstanding lady in terms of the person that she is.”

As a team, Forest Grove finished in eighth place at the state meet with 238 points.

“They did great,” Fleskes says. “It was only the second year that we went to state and they beat four teams. It’s just such a testimony to these young ladies.

“They were excited to be the first (Forest Grove girls team to qualify for state) last year and were determined to get back there.”

Senior Elena Torry-Schrag finished in 53rd place with a time of 20:50.

“Elena is such a strong competitor,” Fleskes says. “She hit the track on Saturday and was just determined to start passing people. She’s just a very determined, hard worker. I can’t say enough about that young lady and I’m really going to miss her leadership as she moves on to the next phase of her life. She ran a great race.”

Sophomore Rubi Vergara-Grindell finished in 56th place with a time of 20:53.

“Rubi, as a sophomore, has been our No. 1 or No. 2 runner all season,” Fleskes says. “She came back from a three-week hip injury and was a strong, strong competitor. She has so much potential.”

Sophomore Kimberly Heesacker finished in 70th place with a time of 21:19.

“This young lady, I have no idea how good she can possibly be,” Fleskes says. “She went from just joining our program last winter, went on in the spring, had a fairly decent track season, but then got injured. All summer long she worked hard. She’s fearless. She can tolerate a lot of pain and just goes for it. She’s a determined young lady.

Junior Julia Khoury finished in 77th place with a time of 21:26.

“She’s been in the mix all season long,” Fleskes says. “Julia is a natural leader and I look for her to be a natural leader. She realizes now what it takes to get to that next level and she’s determined to get there.”

Junior Emilia Anderson finished in 78th place with a time of 21:26.

“Emilia has been on the varsity since day one,” Fleskes says. “She and Julia crossed the finish line at the same time. Emilia just out-leaned her. I’m looking forward to her senior year.”

Freshman Esther Harris finished in 104th place with a time of 23:07.

“Esther was very wide-eyed,” Fleskes says. “This was the biggest meet that she has seen. But, she has a lot of potential.”

What Fleskes liked the most about the way the girls ran was how they used each other to help the team.

“They pack-ran the entire race,” Fleskes says. “They stayed with each other. With the girls, I couldn’t be more proud.”

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