The Wilsonville Night Meet has become the go-to, early-season showcase for many of the state's top runners.
This year was no different as runners from 48 Oregon schools competed Friday at Wilsonville High School. Great weather, a flat and fast course that is spectator friendly and the shortened distance of 3,000 meters all contribute to the meet's popularity with runners and coaches.
It is also unique in that the races are separated by year in school: seniors vs. seniors, etc.
Franklin coach Jacob Michaels has taken his team to the meet since its inception.
"We love that meet," said Michaels, who is beginning his 19th season with the team. "Barkley puts on an amazing meet for the kids. We wouldn’t miss that meet for the world. It’s a great showcase, because it’s more spectator friendly, kids can cheer their teammates on. We always get super stoked about it and we always seem to run really well. I think because the kids are always excited to run there."
Franklin showed off some serious depth in both the boys and girls races Friday and got individual wins by Kaiya Robertson in the senior girls race and Brennan McEwen in the freshman boys race.
Robertson has been on a steady rise to the top of the state's girls ranks. She was 46th in 6A meet as freshman in 2018, seventh as a sophomore in 2019 and finished third at the Rose City Invite as a junior, the finale to the 2021 COVID-19 shortened season. She also set a new personal record of 4:38.44 in the 1,500 during track season earlier this year.
On Friday, Robertson won in 10:18.31, outdueling PIL rivals Charlotte Richman of Wells (second in 10:25.48) and the Kendall York of Lincoln (third in 10:33.06)
"The last month or so, you could tell that she has taken it to a different level," Michaels said. "There were some practices and workouts she did where I was like, OK, this is a completely different level, even to Kaiya’s high standards. She is our leader. She is a very calm, gentle leader, but she has absolutely taken on that role and that has helped her in her own races. Right now running is a joy to her. This is her team, there is no doubt."
Franklin has seven girls run under 11:30, including freshman twins Hailie and Emily Robertson, Kaiya's younger sisters. Hailie finished third in the freshman girls race in 10:52.3 and Emily finished fifth in 11:01.1.
"It is not very common to have three people on the same team that are that good from the same family," Michaels said.
Michaels mentioned the leadership provided by his other girls team captain, junior Avani Stevens-Rose, who just took up running in 2020. Stevens-Rose finished 11th in the junior girls race in 11:30.0 on Friday.
“She is an amazingly social and delightful team captain,” Michaels said.
Senior Alena Krull (15th in 11:18.6) and sophomores Gigi Bareilles (fifth in 11:11.2) and Marin Kauffman-Smith (sixth in 11:20.0) will also be key runners for the Lightning as the season progresses.
"This is the deepest girls team in school history, by far," Michaels said. "I have nine runners that love to race. They are extremely aggressive, going straight to the front in races and they absolutely enjoy racing. It’s so fun to watch them. The racing culture on our women’s team is unbelievable, I have never seen anything like it in my 20 years of coaching."
Franklin's boys program has been one of Oregon's most consistent teams. The Lightning won its first state title in 2019 after finishing fourth in 2018, third in 2017 and fifth in 2016. Franklin also won the Rose City Invite last season.
The boys were just as impressive as the girls at the Wilsonville Night Meet, with eight runners going sub-9:20 on the fast 3,000 course.
The Lightning were led by Charlie North, who finished second in the senior boys race in 8:41.98. Sherwood's Jeffery Rogers won in 8:39.6 and fellow Bowman James Crabtree was third in 8:46.70.
North has also been on a steady progression, finishing 150th at the state cross country meet as a freshman in 2018, 15th in 2019 and seventh at last season's Rose City Invite. North also improved his personal records on the track last spring (1:55.90 in the 800 and 3:55.62 in the 1,500).
Franklin had strong performances throughout its upperclassmen-dominated lineup: seniors Paul Beaven (eighth in 9:05.6) and Gwilym Horner (13th in 9:16.4); and juniors Sheadon Ocker (fourth in 8:59.4), Oscar Ponteri (fifth in 9:01.5), Donagh Palmer (10th in 9:06.7), Max Jacob-Kurilo (16th in 9:13.0) and Oscar Frazier (18th in 9:19.3).
Michaels credits his three captains, seniors North and Beaven, who along with junior Jude Calloway are great three-pronged team leaders.
"I don’t need to worry about anything. They know how to take care of business with the new runners," Michaels said. "This is the kids' program and I entrust a lot of stuff to the team captains."
This ownership by his runners is created by the team culture that has been cultivated at Franklin over the past two decades.
"Our team culture that has now been established at Franklin for a long time and if anything has even been solidified during the COVID year 2020 is that they simply don’t miss days of running," Michaels said. "That culture of getting together and running and making it a social thing, which was very important during COVID, where the kids couldn’t really do anything else but go outside and run together safely.
"We just have a whole bunch of kids that live within two to three miles of each other and they get together and run pretty much every single day all summer long, often times twice a day. It makes my job real easy, since I just give them the general training plan. ... This is a true neighborhood school -- that is honestly the magic right there."
Michaels said that he doesn't put too much emphasis on regular season meets, instead focusing on the big meets at the end of the season. He emphasized that they did not rest for the Wilsonville Night meet, with most of his runners running in the morning the day of the meet.
"The cross country season is all prep for the big show, district and state, and potentially regionals," Michaels said. "I don’t like to get overly intense about regular season races, but we really like the Ash Creek Cross Country Festival (Sept. 11). We love the venue at Western Oregon University, a dedicated cross country only course.
"We are also going to the Hole in the Wall Invitational for the first time (Oct. 9 at Lakewood High School in Arlington, Wash.). We are excited to take a road trip up to Washington and see some of the Washington schools."
However the season ends up for Franklin, you can bet that coach Michaels will be happy.
"I am over the moon with this group of kids, because they are so engaged and have completely taken ownership of their own team."
WILSONVILLE NIGHT MEET
Senior girls - Kaiya Robertson, Franklin
Senior boys - Jeffery Rogers, Sherwood
Junior girls - Lillian Herman, Tigard
Junior boys - Wesley Shipsey, Central Catholic
Sophomore girls - Alicia Mache, Ida B. Wells
Sophomore boys - Jack Meier, West Salem
Freshman girls - Ansley Johnston, South Eugene
Freshman boys - Brennan McEwen, Franklin