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A season to remember

At the end of last year, the HRV girls cross-country team established a one-word goal for the upcoming season -- State.

The Eagles had all the pieces to realize their dream, including one of the state's foremost competitors in Christy Paul; a combination of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm; and a collective desire to compete among Oregon's elite.

They had a dedicated coach, Kristen Uhler, who believed in her team and knew what it would take to prepare them for State. They had leadership from Paul, who finished third at the 2000 state cross-country championships, and senior Laurissa Pennington.

They had two emerging team leaders -- juniors Allison Byers and Emily Meyer -- who trained all summer at high-altitude camps like Steens Mountain and Cloud Cap to narrow the gap between themselves and Paul, the team's No. 1 runner.

They had a collection of future stars that included the No. 5 and No. 6 runners, sophomore Suni Davis and freshman Kristen Hedges, plus a deep junior varsity roster that allowed Uhler to experiment as the season went on.

JV standouts Jenny Villagomez, Jessica Adams, Chelsea Nance and Caitlin Becker each ran with the varsity team at least once this season, vying for the seventh and final position on the team.

Villagomez ultimately got the nod and finished the season as the No. 7 runner heading into the Oct. 24 District meet. Uhler said all along that having such a bevy of talent would make the runners at the front of the pack have to run even faster to maintain their position.

Coming into the 2001 season, each runner possessed a work ethic and sense of team unity that separate contenders from pretenders. This team was primed to run with Oregon's best.

But before the Eagles could take on the Jesuits, Tualatins and Mountain Views of the world, they had to get past their Mt. Hood Conference foes.

No contest -- well, not much anyway.

HRV ran to a 6-0 dual-meet record before facing league-favorite Centennial and a strong Barlow squad on Oct. 17 at Grant High School.

The Eagles showed well, taking first, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th places overall and beating Barlow head-to-head. Centennial, meanwhile, demonstrated why it finished the season undefeated, outracing HRV by a score of 20-36.

But the Eagles weren't satisfied finishing second best. They knew they had to set the bar even higher if they were to catch Centennial at District, and possibly surpass them at State on Nov. 3.

First things first. The Eagles had to qualify for State before they would have a chance to outdistance their rivals. Just as they had done all season, the girls pushed one another to reach new heights, and earned second place at District, which gave them a berth in the state meet.

Not only did Paul push her teammates to excel at District, but she also pushed herself to new level of competition, winning the race convincingly with a course-record time of 17:56. Pennington and Byers also ran exceptional races, taking 10th and 13th places, respectively.

All the hard work had paid off. The Eagles had achieved their preseason goal of reaching State. But just like their preseason goal, the team's experience at State could also be summed up with one word: Overwhelming.

For some maybe, but not Christy Paul. She turned her previous State experience and unmatched competitive drive into HRV's first-ever 4A state cross-country championship, registering the second-fastest 5K time in the history of Lane Community College in Eugene.

She raced to the front of the pack and never looked back, winning the race by 21 seconds. As a team, HRV finished in 16th place overall and was unable to catch Centennial, which finished 10th.

But the girls will have them in squarely their sights next season when they return six of seven runners to varsity competition. They also have a healthy crop of young talent moving up the ranks, including eighth graders Brisa Jessup, who qualified for the USATF Nationals on Nov. 17, Jenna Fisher and Janne Lucas.

Many of the current HRV runners will compete in track and field this spring, and will only continue to improve -- especially if they follow the leadership of Paul and coach Uhler.

Now that the rest of the team has tasted the pinnacle of cross-country competition, they will be driven to surpass their monumental achievements of 2001.

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