Anika Thompson holds Junction City records in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Anika Thompson holds Junction City records in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. (Photo by Jon Olson)

Not long after East Linn Christian coach Kellen Peters found out cross country would not have an OSAA championship this season, the motivation to fill that void was staring him in the face.

“I just saw the look on a couple of my seniors' faces, and that was all I needed to know that we needed this,” Peters said.

The following morning, Feb. 19, Peters wrote a message on to all 3A, 2A and 1A programs, inviting them to a season-ending meet. The response was overwhelming.

“Within three hours, we had 35 schools sign up,” Peters said. “By the next day we were up to about 44. Now we're at 73.”

So Peters teamed up with Westside Christian coach Scott Ball and Kennedy coach Steve Ritchie to start planning a season-ending meet for the small schools. They have scheduled it for April 10 at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon, the home course for East Linn Christian.

“It's a double-loop course, so parents can stand in basically a 100-square-foot spot and see most of the course,” Peters said. “It's a very spectator-friendly course.”

Peters said that 11 schools have donated between $50 and $200 to fund the meet. Steens Mountain Running Camp has offered to pick up whatever leftover costs are needed to run the meet, according to Peters.

Bandon coach Brent Hutton connected the organizers with a cabinet maker who will make trophies to resemble the ones the OSAA awards to the top four teams in each division. Former Lebanon coach Brad Bauer, who is now retired and owns a timing company, has offered to do the timing for the meet.

Westside Christian is arranging to provide every athlete and coach that participates with a commemorative t-shirt.

“Most of the coaches don't even know yet that we've gotten all this stuff rolling,” Peters said.

The organizers are still working on the qualifying process for the three races – 3A and 2A/1A for boys and 3A/2A/1A for girls. The tentative plan is for each of the four districts to provide two team qualifiers and 5-7 individual qualifiers, in addition to 1-3 at-large individual qualifiers, depending on the strength of the district.

A nine-coach committee met Thursday on Zoom to discuss qualifying. They plan is to have it finalized by Saturday.

Peters said that the feedback about the meet has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I haven't really had any negative comments about it,” he said. “It's more like, 'Hey, I'm glad you're doing this, how can I help? Or, 'Thank you for doing this for the kids.' When I went back and told my kids that they have a chance at getting to state, they were thrilled. Totally worth it to me.”

UO-bound Thompson cruises

Junction City senior Anika Thompson, the 4A runner-up the last two seasons, debuted with an impressive victory in a meet against Eugene-area teams Saturday.

The University of Oregon-bound Thompson completed the Marist Catholic High School course in 18 minutes, 25.0 seconds, well ahead of the second-place finisher, South Eugene senior Kate Bouse (19:58.3).

Junction City was not included in the first Eugene-area meet the previous week, but Junction City coach Shannon McAdams said that the Tigers “invited ourselves” for the second meet “because we really don't have a lot of opportunities.” Thompson, held out of the Junction City's first meet at Cottage Grove due to a muddy course, cut loose to beat a field full of 6A runners.

“She's ready to go. She's hungry,” McAdams said. “She's excited to go run at Oregon. She's motivated. She's incredibly self-driven. I'm hoping she gets a chance at a decent track season.”

As a sophomore, Thompson won the 1,500 meters and finished second in the 3,000 meters in the 4A track meet. In virtual meets last spring, she re-set her school record in the 3,000 (10:12.7) and broke the school mark in the 1,500 (4:37.6). She ran 9:59 in the 3,000 in the summer.

“She never quit training,” McAdams said. “All summer she worked really hard at finding opportunities to do the virtual meets.”

Thompson's time of 18:25.0 in her first meet this season is off her best of 18:01.3, but McAdams believes Thompson could be as low as the mid-17s if not for the mask mandate. She is running with power.

“She is working with a weight-training specialist, the trainer that I use,” McAdams said. “It's made a difference in her speed, her strength, her confidence, her ability. She's absolutely ready.”

Thompson is hopeful to gain a measure of redemption in the season-ending 4A meet in Tillamook. In track, she will be shooting for the school record in the 800, which would give her the records in all three distance races.

Ultimook Race

Tillamook senior Marshall Bush continued the strong start to his season with a win Saturday in the Ultimook Race, which featured runners from 17 schools at Hydrangea Ranch in Tillamook.

Bush finished in 16:13.35 to win the 4A boys division by more than a minute over Philomath sophomore Brody Bushnell (17:21.26). Bush and Bushnell were 10th and ninth, respectively, in the 4A championship meet in 2019.

The win comes after Bush opened the season March 4 by clocking 16:02.9 to win by nearly a minute in a meet against Philomath and Siuslaw. The time broke Bush's previous best of 16:20.3, which he set in 2019 at state.

In the Ultimook Race, Philomath outscored Tillamook 26-48 to win the 4A boys race. Tillamook's girls beat runner-up Philomath 31-49 to place first behind the top finisher, senior Sarah Pullen (20:03.55).

East Linn Christian senior Brandon Williams, who was seventh in the 2A/1A meet in 2019, won the 3A/2A/1A boys division at the Ultimook in 17:02.90. Yamhill-Carlton senior Christin Brethower (20:31.87) took the 3A/2A/1A girls race.

Warrenton's boys and Blanchet Catholic's girls finished first in 3A/2A/1A.