‘Big shoes to fill’

Siuslaw's boys and girls cross country teams, led by Coach Chris Johnson (far right), hope to repeat their April 2021 wins at state this fall.

Siuslaw’s cross country team works to return to state this season

Aug. 14, 2021 — After winning both state titles for the 4A division in cross country this past April, Athletic Director and Coach Chris Johnson hopes to continue his teams’ success this season.

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that our goal is to go back to the state championship and win both again,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we have a couple of key losses. We lost Brea Blankenship and Gracie Freudenthal on the girls’ side, and we lost Jaxson Jensen and Ryan Jennings on the boys’ side. Ryan couldn't run at state [last April] because he was injured, but he still had a big impact on our team, so those are all big shoes to fill.”

Fortunately for Johnson, last year’s teams both had a number of relatively young runners who will bring that experience to the fold this year.

“Generally, with the second year in a training cycle from freshman year to sophomore year, kids generally make pretty big gains,” he said. “Our younger kids were pretty competitive last year.” 

The boys’ team has several strong and, as a result of last year, seasoned athletes returning this season.

“Dylan Jensen and Brayden Linton had great state meets for us, and Talan Ross is coming on, and they're all going to be sophomores,” said Johnson. “Jacob Blankenship, who's a junior, was hurt a little bit last year, and he's looking healthy now. Then we have Chad and Kyle Hughes and Sam Ulrich, and they are all kids that could be in the top 10.”

Hughes and Ulrich finished eighth and ninth respectively last April at State. 

“So, we know nothing's ever easy, and there are programs around the state who I'm sure are hungry, and the last thing they want to see is us to win again,” Johnson said. “But we're going to put our best foot forward to try to make that happen.”

Siuslaw’s girls’ team is also looking promising despite graduating two key members this summer. 

“On the girls’ side, Addison and Macy McNeill are twin sisters who are super talented and they're working really hard this summer,” said Johnson. “I think they can come in and aggregately be really close to about the same that Gracie and Brea were together, which is saying a lot, but I think they can do it.” 

Also starting as a freshman this year is Maya Wells, who Johnson said is “really good.”

The girls’ team isn’t large, but like the boys’ team, their returners are strong and last years’ experience at state will help a great deal.

“We don't have a lot of depth right now,” said Johnson. “We still have Rylee Colton, who was fifth at the state meet last year and she had a great summer of training. Jane Lacouture and Corduroy Holbrook had great state meets last year, and Cordy gained a lot of experience and confidence coming off of a really great track season where she was big for us on that 4x4.” 

With Assistant Coach Amy Flora coming on this year to add even more support for the Viks, Siuslaw is definitely set up to succeed.

“We just do what we do, we train every day,” said Johnson. “We're looking forward to having a few more chances to run fast with more big meets this year and a full schedule, and not having to deal with the mask stuff, at least at this point. So, it's kind of a breath of fresh air.”

Like all of Siuslaw’s athletics, the cross country teams are following all governmental guidelines for masking and social distancing as necessary under the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson’s statement came before Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement that indoor mask use will be required, regardless of vaccination status, starting Aug. 13. It is unknown if further restrictions will be implemented.

“This is an ever-changing landscape,” Johnson said.

Siuslaw’s first track meet of the 2021-22 school year will be the Country Fair Classic held at the Country Fair Grounds in Veneta on Friday, Sept. 10. Girls begin at 5 p.m., and boys begin at 5:45 p.m.

“The team is a great group of kids, and I know that they're all just as fired up to try to come back and win again as [us coaches] are,” Johnson said. “But you never know what other teams are going to look like. There are a couple of teams on the horizon who were strong last year, who look strong again. So, we'll just go to war, we'll do what Siuslaw does, and then we’ll add them up at the end.”

To follow both teams’ progress this season, visit www.athletic.net/CrossCountry/School.aspx?SchoolID=183.