Coming off the 2019 state meet, perhaps no girls cross country team had a brighter future than Corvallis.
The Spartans won their first state title, outscoring Hood River Valley by four points for the 5A crown behind a lineup that featured sophomore champion Madeline Nason and three freshmen that placed in the top 14.
The offseason has stopped that momentum in its tracks, though. The program usually has at least 25 runners, but is down to 11. Among the missing are sophomores Ava Betts and Ronja Soares, who placed eighth and 14th at state, respectively, in 2019.
“It's been a tough season for us,” coach Mark Hulburt said. “Being locked at home has not helped any of the kids. We lost a lot of kids just because they lost interest.”
There are reasons for optimism, however. Madeline Nason and her sophomore sister Avery, who placed 10th at state as a freshman, are back and looking strong. And the Spartans have a promising crop of freshmen that includes twins Hannah and Kate Middleton and Finn Hanson. Hannah Middleton has emerged as the team's No. 3 runner behind the Nasons.
“They can't quite take the place of the ones we lost, but we have three very good freshmen that came in,” Hulburt said.
Betts went to Canada to live with her grandmother for a year and Soares is dealing with knee issues, said Hulburt. But the senior-less Spartans remain hopeful that they will get everyone back on board, at least by this fall.
Corvallis knocked off more than a year's worth of rust March 3 in a dual meet against hometown rival Crescent Valley. Madeline Nason, Avery Nason and Hannah Middleton placed 1-2-3 as the Spartans cruised to an easy 20-38 win on their home course, Crystal Lake Sports Park. The Nasons led the pack until Madeline broke away to finish in 19:48, beating her sister by 11 seconds and Middleton by 1:08.
It was a satisfactory debut, but Hulburt knows his runners need top competition to regain their edge.
“We need about five good races,” Hulburt said. “There are no invitationals for us, so we're having dual meets in the league. I've been looking for meets, and there just doesn't seem to be any invitationals that are four or five schools.”
The Spartans defeated Central 15-47 in a dual Wednesday at Crystal Lake as Avery Nason (19:10.7) set the pace, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Madeline.
The Mid-Willamette Conference is in the early stages of plotting a district meet, according to Hulburt. If he had his way, 5A would find a way to stage a meet on the state course at Lane Community College, but such an undertaking is littered with obstacles, not the least of which is district travel restrictions.
Hulburt, in his 26th season with the team, is looking at the big picture.
“We'll try to get a district meet going, we'll do fine there, and then we've move right into track,” he said. “I think the girls are really going to shoot for fall. They'll all be back.”
The scrambling of the seasons will be an adjustment for the runners, especially for the Nasons, who are year-round swimmers. The high school swimming season is scheduled is scheduled to go from May 17 to June 27, a time when runners typically are competing at a high level and leading into intense summer workouts.
“It's kind of hard as a coach because you want them running,” Hulburt said. “I have to kind of look at it like they're really building their lungs without the impact.”
Eight of the largest cross country teams in the Eugene area have agreed to compete in five meets throughout the season. Sheldon's boys and South Eugene's girls came out on top in the first meet Saturday at Hamlin Middle School in Springfield.
University of Oregon-bound Sheldon senior Vincent Mestler, who placed eighth in the 6A meet in 2019, dominated the boys meet by finishing in 16:54.8. Sheldon sophomore Jonah Donde (17:20.7) and two South Eugene runners – junior Jackson Seubert (17:41.4) and senior Henry Anderson (17:53.7) – were next.
Sheldon scored 26 points to finish ahead of South Eugene (33) and Marist Catholic (92).
South Eugene held down the top three spots in the girls race behnd senior Kate Bouse (20:22.9), junior Anna Tavakolian (20:28.5) and sophomore Cameron Gupta (20:54.9). The Axe scored 29 points to beat Sheldon (35) and Marist Catholic (94).
Marist Catholic will play host to the next meet Saturday.
Outlaws break out
The reigning 3A champion Enterprise/Joseph/Wallowa boys opened the season by winning a five-team meet at Nyssa. The Outlaws finished with 23 points to easily defeat Baker (43), Burns (66), Nyssa (99) and Four Rivers (105).
Juniors Zac Knapp (17:11.77) and Baydon Menton (18:06.33) finished first and third, respectively, for the Outlaws. In the 2019 state meet, Knapp was third and Menton was fourth.
Baker senior Justin Ash (17:15.04) finished second to Knapp.