BEND — Neither of the Hood River Valley cross-country coaches expected their teams to win a district title this year.
But both Kristen Uhler and Rich Hedges believed that their runners had a chance to shatter their preseason expectations if they worked hard all the way up to the Intermountain Conference district meet, held last Saturday at Drake Park in Bend.
Which is exactly what happened, as the Eagles took on some of the top programs in the state to decide the final placements in the IMC.
“This was a big learning experience for these girls,” Uhler said of her team, which placed sixth out of eight schools. “They are starting to realize that they have to train year-round to compete in this league, and I think the majority of them are ready to do that.”
The boys are in a similar boat, with three of the top 10 teams in the state — Bend, Hermiston and Mountain View — residing in the IMC. And despite finishing where they were seeded (sixth), the Eagle boys will return four of their top seven runners next year, along with a rich core of underclassmen.
“We went in sixth and finished sixth, so it’s neither a disappointment nor a victory,” Hedges said of his team, which had hoped to leap into fourth or fifth place. “This league is tough as nails, and to move up in the standings, we need to make the commitment to train through the summer, like Redmond and Summit did last year.”
Those are the two teams the Eagle boys were trying to catch. But after a long season, and Homecoming as a distraction, Hedges’ team had to settle for one spot lower than last year.
But perhaps the biggest disappointment for the boys team was that their No.1 runner, junior Alex Jimenez, didn’t realize his season-long goal of qualifying for state. However, he did run his best time of the year (16:47), which was only good enough for 15th overall in a conference full of overachievers.
“Alex did what he wanted to do, which was run in the mid-16’s,” Hedges said. “This may be the most difficult league in the state to qualify for state, but he’s already thinking about next year.”
Senior Fernando Ochoa was more than one minute behind Jimenez in 30th overall (17:52), while junior Mat Foster placed 37th (18:15), junior Chris Jennings 39th (18:22), and senior Graham Hay 47th (18:55). Meanwhile, junior Jess Jennings (19:03, 48th overall) and senor Brian Crosswhite (19:04, 49th overall) rounded out the boys varsity results.
On the girls side, freshman upstart Melissa Kauffman blazed to a 13th-place overall finish with a time of 20:46, impressing Uhler and making her wonder “what if.”
“I think Melissa could have placed in the top seven,” Uhler said. “She is extremely competitive and willing to risk it in a race. It should be fun to see her progress over the next three years.”
Kauffman was followed by sophomore Janne Lucas in 31st (22:29), junior Komisa Schwartzel in 32nd (22:34), sophomore Jenna Fisher in 38th (22:52), and sophomore Jennifer Jeffries in 45th (23:59).
Sophomore Jolie Hobbs (24:01; 46th overall) and senior Caitlin Becker (24:06; 47th overall) completed the girls varsity results.
“We have a great core group of girls who are committed and willing to work toward a common goal,” Uhler said of her young, constantly improving team. “That level of team spirit makes it gratifying for me as a coach.”
Another bright spot for the girls team at district were the four personal records that were set by Kauffman, Schwartzel, Melissa Princehouse (23:19 in JV race) and Hailey Christiansen (25:13, JV race). Susi Valle also ran a strong JV race at 24:52.
Standouts for the boys JV team were Adam Mack (17th, 18:53); Carlos Quintana (24th, 19:18), Kevin Dye (26th, 19:25), Joel Miller (35th, 19:52), K.C. Christiansen (36th, 19:52), and Devon Dallas (37th, 20:04).