Sixth place in the Intermountain Conference isn’t exactly what the Hood River Valley cross-country teams were shooting for.
But if you consider that the IMC is one of the elite conferences statewide — with runners competing for state titles, let alone district titles — there’s not a whole lot more HRV could have done except run year-round.
Not everyone has it in them, but according to girls coach Kristen Uhler, they had better if they want to run for her team.
“I’m not happy with sixth, and I don’t think the girls are either,” Uhler said. “I know they can do much better next year, and I expect to see a good majority of them do everything it will take to improve.”
While HRV did place sixth out of eight teams at the Oct. 25 district meet, Uhler saw her sophomore-dominated team take tremendous strides this season.
She watched a number of young runners, such as Janne Lucas and Jolie Hobbs, jump to the front of the pack, and also looked on as freshman sensation Melissa Kauffman surged into the top 15 at district.
Uhler also got an unexpected boost from junior Komisa Schwartzel, who ran JV for half the season, as well as sophomores Jennifer Jeffries and Jenna Fisher.
“The way I see it is, if you’re going to do something, why not be successful at it?” Uhler said. “So now that these girls are showing me the attitude that they want to improve, I want to do everything I can to help them get there.”
The girls team will only say goodbye to one senior varsity runner, Caitlin Becker, and will also welcome a host of talented eighth graders from the Hood River Middle School program.
Meanwhile, the boys team will watch three of its top five runners — Fernando Ochoa, Graham Hay and Brian Crosswhite — move onto bigger and better things.
But coach Rich Hedges also has a lot coming back, including junior No. 1 Alex Jimenez, Mat Foster and three-year lettermen Jess and Chris Jennings.
“We have a great group of juniors and sophomores who could help us move up,” said Hedges, who will look for a boost from standout JV runners such as Kevin Dye, Carlos Quintana, Joel Miller and K.C. Christiansen.
“But we need to look at what our goal is and take the steps to get there,” he added. “The number-one thing we’re missing right now is the competitive edge that Mountain View, Bend and Hermiston have. There’s a big gap right now, and we need to shorten it.”
The road to the top five will not be an easy one for the boys or girls teams. However, Uhler and Hedges have already begun to sell the year-round commitment idea, and they hope to see it pay off next season with another youth movement.
“We need to come into the season in shape and then run to our potential,” Hedges said. “But the commitment has got to be there.”