By SCOTT BECKER
The Hood River Valley High School cross-country teams got in a different kind of workout this week by taking their annual preseason trip to Cloud Cap Inn on Mt. Hood.
The focus of the outing was to build team unity and train at high altitudes, while introducing newcomers to what cross-country is all about.
The overnight trip to the Crag Rat rescue base started with a nine-mile uphill run from the Cooper Spur parking lot to the cabin. A two-mile time trial in the surrounding trails followed the next morning for the boys team.
“This is the time of year to talk strategy, pace and set goals for the season and for life,” boys head coach Rich Hedges said.
“After this, we concentrate so much on training that we have no time to talk about it. So we do it now and have them apply it in the time trial and hopefully for the rest of the season,” he said.
The time trial uses the format of a cross-country meet to get a feel for what a meet is like and to determine who is in the best preseason condition.
The current leader for the boys team is sophomore Alex Jimenez, who made huge improvement during the 2002 track season, and posted a two-mile time of 9:55 — over one minute faster than his time at last year’s trial.
“It wasn’t too hard,” Jimenez said. “It was just a relaxed, even effort. But now I feel more pressure being number one because last year I was like number seven or eight.”
Senior team captain Jeff Fisher finished shortly behind Jimenez. “We’re definitely going to be competitive this year,” said Fisher. “A few varsity guys graduated last year, but we’re so deep in talent that it won’t be hard to make up for.”
Other experienced seniors like Jon Gehrig and Eric Avila, plus young stars like Adam Mack, Jess Jennings and Chris Jennings should help close that gap.
HRV’s recent move from the Mt. Hood to the Intermountain Conference is one area that could make up for itself. While most athletic teams will be missing classes and staying up late during long trips, the cross-country program will be minimally affected.
The transportation conflict within the IMC makes it so dual meets — where one team faces another league team — are not required, and league standings are based solely on the district meet at the end of the season. That format sets up all weekend invitational meets.
“Not having to do dual meets in the middle of the week is a testament to how strong the IMC teams are on the state level,” Hedges said. “The IMC is home to powerhouses such as Mountain View, Hermiston and perennial state champion Bend.
“When you have to run two races a week, you end up pacing yourself over the season. Now, we can dedicate our whole week to training and put in a 100 percent effort on the weekend,” he said.
Jimenez agrees. “I like our schedule better this year,” he said. “We get more rest between meets, but the meets are going to be tougher.”
Both teams will compete in their first meet, the Hermiston Invitational, next weekend.