Boys Cross Country Retakes the State Title
On Saturday, November 3, Central Catholic's Boy's Cross Country team won the State Championship.
For full results, CLICK HERE.
For an interview with Senior Ben Brown, CLICK HERE.
For an interview with Head Coach Dave Frank, CLICK HERE.
Head Coach Dave Frank recaps the spectacular day:
For the last decade and a half the OSAA State Championship blue trophy has had a “semi-permanent” home on Stark Street at Central Catholic with ten titles since 2003 (that’s ten of fifteen years). A year ago – for the first time since 2011 – the trophy took a hiatus from SE Portland, moving west to rival Jesuit High. Their 2017 team was phenomenal and richly deserved the title. Despite the merits of that team, your Rams were intent on returning the blue trophy to its rightful home in 2018.
After a solid summer of training the CCXC crew (adopting the moniker LOCAL UNION 290, indicative of the blue collar nature of their work as distance runners) looked strong in the early season with excellent outings at the Wilsonville Night Meet and the Tualatin Invitational. Senior BEN BROWN was the team’s clear leader and ran with a confident swagger that showed he intended to improve significantly upon his State Meet 16th place finish of 2017. Juniors JAMESON WESTHEAD, SPENCER HARDY, JOE HALSEY, JOSUE CORONA-SOLIS, and transfer MARCUS DAVID were largely inseparable in racing and training, although Josue lagged a touch behind the others due to some compromised summer training. Joining that group were outstanding sophomores LUKE HORNE and ANDERS BEIL and frosh phenom JULIAN KINGERY. Anders fought some late summer “doldrums” but started to make his way back to the group in mid-late September with the help of our unofficial team chiropractor, Dean “Doc” Clark. Likewise Julian suffered an injury in early September, but Doc Clark and Matt Walsh (at P.A.C.E.) brought him back quickly.
While the Rams were toiling away in the dog days of September – typically the hardest training month of the season - other teams were racing at a high level, notably SE Portland neighbor Franklin HS and defending champs Jesuit. After the Tualatin meet in early September the CCHS harriers were #2 in the coaches poll behind Franklin, but by the time the District meets had concluded in late October, little thought was given to the Rams who were now ranked #4. A quick glance at season best times showed why:
#1 FRANKLIN: 15:19, 15:40, 15:45, 15:53, 16:11, 16:35, 16:44
#2 JESUIT: 15:26, 15:39, 15:49, 15:52, 15:52, 15:54, 16:13
#3 SUNSET: 15:18, 15:43, 15:53, 16:03, 16:06, 16:19, 16:25
#4 CCHS: 15:42, 16:11, 16:20, 16:21, 16:22, 16:28, 16:30
Times are clearly important in cross country, but they don’t always tell the whole story. This year the Rams had not ventured to any of the “fast” courses, and, while it was hard to know where exactly they stood in comparison to these other squads, many knew that the differences were not nearly as clear cut as they appeared above.
Heading into the State Meet, Ben had not been terribly sharp in the last few weeks while Jameson and Spencer had been very steadily improving. Anders had found his “mojo”, and Marcus was running very consistently. Joe had, truth-be-told, a very bad month, but he rebounded at the District Meet as he and Josue took the top two spots in the JV runoff to earn their spots on the varsity for State. Luke and Julien – varsity level athletes at ANY other school in the state of Oregon – would be the alternates.
The week of the State Meet was taken from the textbook of the previous 15 years in terms of training for the week. By Thursday most felt fresh and ready to roll. The course jog on Friday showed the Lane CC layout to be in excellent condition – a far cry from the swamp the Rams desired! Regardless, these young men were rested, calm, and confident that they would show their true colors on Saturday.
As is the case each year, there were a plethora of good luck texts, emails, and phone calls from alumni, parents, teachers, etc…, and it cannot be overstated how important this connection is for our athletes.
Saturday morning was uneventful, thank goodness. At 2pm the boys disappeared to their “secret spot” to start the process of racing at 3:30. As they did their warmup drills they appeared loose and relaxed but also keenly aware of what they were about to do; what they were going to ask of themselves and each other on this day.
Given the team’s history at the State Meet, this group expected to race well. “Race well” did not have a team placing associated with it, but these boys knew that people would say, “Hmmm, Central Catholic was a lot better than we thought coming into this race.”
At the gun all seven gold-clad Rams got a strong start. A “strong start” and a “stupid start” are not the same thing; these boys were solidly in the top 40, with Ben tailing a very large pack chasing early leaders Zane Fodge (the prohibitive favorite from McMinnville) and Daniel Beckstead from Grants Pass. The other Rams were only seconds apart through the mile with Jameson, Spencer, and Joe leading Josue, Anders, and Marcus. While the men of CCHS were well positioned, there was no doubt that Jesuit was serious about defending their title as their neon green singlets were clearly ahead of the Rams on a “man by man” basis.
At halfway, entering the famous Lane CC ponds, Ben still trailed the chase group of about 14 athletes which included a pair from Jesuit and a pair from Franklin. Jameson, Spencer, and Joe were locked in a battle behind Ben with Jesuit’s #3 & #4, but Franklin’s third and fourth were not in the mix. Anders and Josue were another few seconds back alongside Jesuit’s fifth with Marcus another 20m in arrears. At this point Jesuit was clearly winning the race, but this is where the real racing begins at the State Meet.
By 3000m Ben had infiltrated that chase group (he later explained that the early pace was ridiculously fast, and he felt no need to run quite that fast!), while Jameson and Spencer were moving away from the Crusaders’ #4 man, running just inside the top 20. Anders and Josue were about 30th with Joe splitting the difference – and clearly running the best race of his season.
At almost exactly one mile to go on this course there lies a short hill. Many race-breaking moves have been made on this hill; Kenny Klotz got his first win with a magnificent effort over that hill in 2004, and Kyle Thompson got his first in 2011 with a similar move. Not every “move” is to win the race outright. Many Rams have cemented their legacy with great efforts here, as a “launch pad” into the final stages of this race. On this day, Ben Brown, heeding the words of his coaches on the previous day’s course jog, made such a move – and immediately obliterated the once 14 strong chase pack. In the process, he and Sunset’s Ethan Reese quickly reeled in a fading Beckstead and focused on Fodge, who had not been able to shake the pack. This was a move that many did not see coming as Ben was not on the list of the state’s fastest times and was not considered by many as a “contender”. On the contrary, Ben had indicated in August that he intended to be a top five finisher here – and, should the opportunity present itself, he saw no reason he could not/should not win the race. With 500m to go he and Reese were still shoulder to shoulder, and they were, in fact, closing on Fodge. As they hit the track with 300m left, the Princeton-bound Reese – a NOTORIOUS closer who won last spring’s State 800m title – found a “rocket in his pocket” and dropped Ben. He quickly went by a tiring Fodge and held off a hard charging Aidan Palmer from Franklin for the win. Ben also caught Fodge but Jesuit’s Will Sheaffer had just a little more in his tank to nab third. Ben finished fourth, the highest CCHS finish since Kyle Thompson’s 2013 individual victory.
Not far behind the team race was just heating up. Jesuit’s Jack Bennett was 10th, well clear of Jameson and Spencer – who fought tooth and nail to finish 17th and 19th in PR times of 16:03 and 16:05. Jesuit’s fabulous freshman John Schuler was 22nd while Anders had closed like a banshee to garner 28th, one spot ahead of Jesuit’s fourth man, Ryan Schumacher (although they were given the same official time, 16:13, a PR for Anders). Josue, too, had passed Joe in the final kilometer and was 33rd in a PR 16:15. Joe, despite no longer being in the Rams’ top five scorers, never gave up and was 35th, passing Jesuit’s 5th, Declan O’Scannlain, in the final 100m. Remarkably, Joe was two places ahead of O’Scannlain, but they, too, were given the same official time, a PR 16:20 for Joe. Marcus, while not having his best day on the course, was the fastest 7th man in the meet at 16:38, just a tick behind Jesuit’s #6 and a few seconds behind Franklin’s FOURTH man in 55th place in his first ever State Meet.
Of course, all these placings were known only after the results were published. In other words, it was impossible to know who had won the team title. Within moments of the finish Jesuit coach Tom Rothenberger, who conceded that the Rams had won “…by about ten points…” I countered that it was much closer than that. Eventually (30min???) the “unofficial” results were posted online; every parent and coach immediately started totaling the scores. In cross country athletes not on a full team (athletes that have qualified for the championship as an individual without their team) do not count in the team scoring. Typically, the removal of these athletes has little effect on the final outcome, but when it is close, these athletes can be change things. This year the “raw” scores showed Jesuit 101 – Central Catholic 101. When the individuals were eliminated, it was 93-93. In this situation, the tie breaker is the sixth man. This was good news to the Ram faithful as almost everyone knew that Joe Halsey, the Rams’ sixth man, had beaten Jesuit’s fifth man, and, obviously, their sixth man.
On a course not known to yield PRs, six Rams ran the fastest races of their young lives. (Ben equaled his best time.) On a day when almost nobody gave these boys a chance to win, they believed in themselves and in each other. Two athletes NOT in the top seven ten days earlier (Josue and Joe) made HUGE contributions. Folks unacquainted with the sport might have difficulty understanding how cross country is a team sport – but this race clearly highlights the value of every man on the team.
So… the blue trophy returns to Stark Street, Local Union 290. Six times in the last seven years, eleven times in the last 16. Each win – and the non-wins – have been special in their own right. It would be unfair to say that one year was/is better than any other year as every team, every athlete, every group has their own character and overcomes their own challenges.
Let’s just say that THIS year was SPECIAL. A team that virtually no one thought could win; well no one except nine boys and a handful of coaches sitting in a hotel room in Springfield, Oregon on a Friday night.
There’s magic in those gold uniforms. And there’s magic in the hearts of seven amazing young men from Central Catholic.