Over the past few years, the Hood River Valley High School cross country program has been a staple of HRV athletics’ success.
Last season, both the girls and boys teams swept the conference championship meet, the girls winning the Columbia River Conference title for a second year in a row and the boys for a third.
The momentum at the CRC meet then carried over to the OSAA Cross Country State Meet, where the girls finished second overall and the boys nearly cracked a top-five finish, ending in sixth place.
Despite the similarity in success for both squads last season, the girls and boys teams head into the 2018 season in completely different circumstances.
The girls come into this season returning their entire varsity squad that went to the state meet last season, which consisted of Lottie Bromham (junior), Chloe Bullock (sophomore), Vada Joplin Clay (sophomore), Frances Dickinson (junior), Josephine Dickinson (junior), Eva Jones (junior) and Evelyn Nunez (senior).
“Last year, we had a young and inexperienced girls team,” said head coach Brandon Bertram. “This year, however, we are adding a year of training and experience on top of what they’ve already done and accomplished.”
Only one place away from the state title last season, the responsibility and commitment to work during the summer time from the group of girls who are returning this season was “incredible,” Bertram said.
Over the course of the past couple of months, many of the girls came five to six times a week to work out together; 10 of the girls achieved 200-plus total miles individually this summer.
“There was a great commitment level to the team this summer,” said Bertram. “This is a very purposeful group. They have an idea in mind on what they want to achieve this year. I could step away for three or four months and I would come back and they would be rocking.”
On the other hand, the boys lose three “leaders” in Braxton Wilson, Finn Peterson and Travis Running, Bertram explained.
“There’s no other way around it, we lost an impactful group of seniors,” said Bertram. “Not performance wise as much, but leaders who kept this team on course with a common goal to succeed as a team.”
Of the six HRV boys who traveled to state last season, only Josh Haynes (sophomore), Raine Melby (junior) and Omar Quintana (junior) will return for the Eagles.
Haynes, Melby and Quintanilla will be asked to develop leadership roles ahead of this season, as they’re three of the strongest runners on the team, but haven’t shown that unspoken “it,” which Wilson, Peterson and Running possessed as last season’s leaders.
“Where the boys are now is where the girls were at last year; it’s an inexperienced group and they’ll be trying to find their footing,” said Bertram. “Like last year with the girls, it’s exciting to coach and watch a group that hasn’t yet found themselves as they attempt to build a cohesive group and push towards a common goal.”
Not only will Bertram be faced with the task of developing his young returning core into leaders, but he’ll also have to educate and guide this year’s large incoming group of freshmen and newcomers.
“We have nine freshmen boys coming in, and a couple of seniors that have never ran cross country before that could make an impact, but we need the returners to be a huge part in the new personnel’s development,” said Bertram. “As a team, we’ve talked a lot about culture and Haynes, Melby and Quintanilla are great examples of the culture we want to establish.”
Key meets for HRV cross country heading into this season: Nike Portland XC (Sept. 29) and Champoeg Invitational (Oct. 12).
The Nike Portland XC meet comes six weeks into the season and about a month out from the OSAA 5A State Championships. “We will really know where we are at as a group come this race,” said Bertram. “We will be able to see what we may need to change or what strengths we can build on that we do have.”
Two weeks later, HRV cross country will travel to Champoeg State Park for the Champoeg Invitational. A stacked field of 20 teams will attend the invitational, which is a much larger field than last year’s six teams that participated.
“We’re familiar with this race and course as we have competed here the past few years, but others will not,” said Bertram. “It’ll be an important race as far as rankings go ahead of the state tournament.”
Both the girls and boys teams have swept the competition at the Champoeg Invitational the past two years.
These races will simulate the competition that the boys and girls will see at both the 5A Intermountain Conference Championships and OSAA 5A State Championships.
As far as expectations go this season, Bertram explained that both teams are working towards repeating as conference champions, while the girls have their eyes set on a top-finish at state.
“With a new conference, we don’t know where other teams are at and the conference meet will be held at a course we’ve never ran before, but we are always expecting to be on the top of the podium,” said Bertram. “In our program, our goal is always to get on top of the podium. They understand it’s a process and that we are working on a process each week whether its strategy or training specific, but they need to distinct the times when they need to look in the mirror and analyze themselves and when it’s just training.”