This upcoming year may be the most anticipated season in recent memory for the Hood River Valley High School Cross Country program. With the achievements of last year’s teams — a blowout state championship by the girls and a strong sixth place by the boys — and the sheer number of returning athletes, the Eagles are primed to continue, if not expand, their dominance in the sport.

“I’m always stoked for the season, but this is the most excited I’ve been about the program in 10 years,” coach Brandon Bertram said. “We have quite a few kids with extensive experience on the team; there’s a lot to look forward to.”

That’s certainly the case for the girls team. Six of the seven runners who competed at the state championship meet last year, wherein the Eagles took four of the top 10 finishes, are returning. In this ensemble are the Dickinson twins, Frances and Josephine, who placed first and fifth respectively as juniors and look to improve their performances in their final high school seasons. Brinna Weiseth, a sophomore, was the runner-up at the state meet last year and hopes to return to the elite squad later in the season after recovering from injuries. Senior Lottie Bromham, who’s coming off a strong track season having placed fourth in the 3000 meters at the state championships in May, will also be a member of the Eagles' super seven. To say expectations of this team are high would be quite fair.

“You don’t want to set a bar that’s not manageable,” Bertram said. “But we want to set a standard where the kids are getting the most out of what they have. The kids who just started are just as important as the kids running for a state championship. We have a returning championship team but along with that we have some newcomers who are a part of the team and will make an impact.”

It’s hard to say the girls have room for improvement, given their circumstances: They won the state championship with a score of 43, less than half the score of second place Wilsonville (94) and they have six returning girls from the seven who competed at state, including their top three finishers. You can’t get much better than first place, right? The answer to that will come with this season.

The boys are preparing for a strong season as well. Having placed sixth at the state championship last year, and with numerous kids returning to the program, the team is ready to stake their claim among the top schools in the state.

“The boys left the state meet last year knowing they were in the running for second or third,” Bertram said. “As a result, they’ve prepared for the year coming up; they know that with the new bodies and the returning guys, there’s good reason to be excited.”

Among the returning guys is junior Josh Haynes who was the top runner for the Eagles last year, placing 11th at the state championship. The size of the collective program has swelled to 58 kids, the largest in history, and the boys team has welcomed several runners who will have significant, immediate impact. It was a long summer of training for Hood River, with the team dedicating themselves to a level of commitment rivaled by few.

“Collaboratively they put in over 7,000 miles this summer, pretty evenly split between the boys and girls,” Bertram said. “They know what it takes to win and they know the summer is a key part of that; it’s the baking of the cake and now we can get into frosting it.”

As the season gets underway, the runners are joined by a multitude of parent volunteers who host events and assist with the team in anyway necessary. It takes more than coaches and runners to win championships, something that Bertram made particular note of.

“Parents drive the program; without them doing all that they do, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Bertram said. “It’s the way they help us that we’re able to be the program that we are.”

The teams will partake in several races over the next two months as they prepare for the IMC Championship meet on Oct. 31, followed by the State Championship meet on Nov. 9.

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