If constant competition only makes runners stronger, then the Hood River Valley girls cross-country team is sure to be one of the buffest, burliest teams in the Mt. Hood Conference this season.
Less than one week remains before the team's first meet and the varsity squad still hasn't been determined. The team has so many strong runners that coach Kristin Uhler is having a very difficult time narrowing the field to seven.
"The girls that have been trainÿing this summer are extremely dedicated," Uhler said. "As a coach, that commitment is really appreciated.
"After all, if you're going to do something -- whether it's sports, academics, etc. -- you should do it with 100 percent commitment."
One runner who has demonÿstrated her commitment the past two seasons is junior Christy Paul. She's not just committed. She is driven to be the best.
Paul all but secured her spot on the varsity team after winning the 2000 Oregon state girls cross-country title. Any doubts were removed when she broke the 5K record at the Steens Mountain High-Altiÿtude Running Camp in late July.
Senior Laurissa Pennington has also solidified her position on the varsity team, leaving almost 15 runners to compete for the final five spots.
"It's going to be tough to make it into the top seven," Uhler said. "That's what you want on a comÿpetitive cross-country team. Friendly intrasquad competition makes everybody faster."
Not that you can ever have too many good runners.
Just like any sport, depth is a huge positive in cross-country. With so much qualÿity competition from within, the junior varsity squad will improve at a faster pace, and be prepared to step in next season -- maybe even later this season.
Some of the other runners comÿpeting for a spot on varsity inÿclude juniors Emily Meyer, Raeÿmi Lucas and Allison Byers, sophÿomores Chelsea Nance, Faye Haÿglund, Lindsey Brown and Jessica Adams, and freshmen Kristen Hedges and Jillian Jones. Uhler also expects up to ten more runÿners once school starts.
That depth should allow the Eagles to build on last year's third-place finish at Districts, and get a leg up on the rest of the conference this season.
The team has been training together all summer, including one-hour uphill workouts at Post Canyon every Tuesday, long runs of 45 minutes to an hour, and 200, 400, 800 and mile interval runs.
They also went on a mountain retreat to Cloud Cap to practice high-altitude running. The team travels to Cloud Cap each year during daily doubles -- a chalÿlenge that eliminates any leftover rust from summer vacation.
Uhler hopes that all the hard work pays off this season, and has very high expectations for her team.
"I never like to make predicÿtions," Uhler said, "but we were third in the district last year and were very disappointed that we didn't make it to State.
"We've got the talent and the work ethic this year, and our goal is to win a district title."