GERVAIS — Dallas cross-country coach Monique Lankheet was visibly nervous during the wait behind the finish of the Thursday’s boys district race and the announcements of the team winners.
Dallas’ boys team had a shot to be the first in more than 30 years to qualify for state at Thursday’s Mid-Willamette Conference District meet at Willamette Mission State Park.
The team would have to make up some ground on conference rivals to get there, which explained Lankheet’s anxiety.
“If we go to state, this is monumental. I don’t know yet,” she said minutes after the boys’ race ended. “I think it looks good, but I don’t know.”
Lankheet has coached the team since 1995. In that time, individual runners have qualified, but never a whole team.
“They’ve just been working all summer. We’ve just done a lot to prepare for this day,” Lankheet said. “I just so want this to be the scenario for them.”
The top three teams at the district meet qualify for state. The team estimated it scored about 50 points — based on the team’s top five competitors’ places. That put the Dragons in the running.
After what seemed a long wait for the coach and team, the boys learned they earned the chance to run one more race — on the state biggest stage.
Dallas boys took second place, edged out by Crescent Valley, which scored 50 points to Dallas’ 52.
Junior Trevor Cross, who took third in the race, said the boys had been studying Crescent Valley’s times and believed they had shot at beating their long-time rival.
“This last week, we were looking at our times and started thinking, ‘Oh no. We can get them,’” he said.
Cross tried out a different strategy to finish ahead for Crescent Valley’s top two runners — going out fast.
“I know that they are really good a running a really fast last mile,” he said. “My thought was if I get ahead of them, they won’t be able to catch me, but I didn’t get enough of a lead.”
They caught him in the last mile 3.1-mile race to take first (Drew Roberts, 15 minutes, 47.9 seconds) and second place (AJ Sandvig, 15:51.1).
Cross finished with a time of 16.02.1, followed by freshman Toby Ruston (sixth, 16:43.1); sophomore Gavin Grass (ninth, 17:01.4); junior Orion Knudson (13th, 17:25.2); and freshman Dillion Stuhr (21st, 17:40) to round out the scoring.
The team may have fell just short of beating the Raiders, but it accomplished its bigger goal.
“They ran tough and they ran like warriors,” Lankheet said. “It’s awesome. I’m just so proud of them.”
Ruston, who by placing in the top seven would have been headed as an individual, competed until the very end. A last-second burst at the finish line moved him from seventh to sixth.
He said he was more worried about his place than his time.
“My coaches told me what place I was in and I just followed that,” he said. “I just picked them off slowly, one-by-one. It was a hard finish.”
Cross, who’s headed to state for the second time, said he’s happy to get another crack at knocking off the district champs at the state meet.
“As a team, we’ll see if we can beat Crescent Valley,” he said with a grin.
The girls team faced injuries to several of its runners, so it wasn’t competing for a state berth, but Lankheet said her team’s running wounded ran courageous races Thursday.
Sophomore Melody Hight, (31st, 23:00) was the team’s top finisher, followed by junior Bekah Rocak (35th, 23:14.12); junior Madelyn Kennedy (44th, 25:34.4); sophomore Mikayla Thiel (45th, 36:34.9); and Rachael Ruman (47th, 26.17.0) to round out the top five.
The team placed seventh in the meet.
“They didn’t run as well as they were hoping to, but they never gave up and they finished and competed as hard as they could,” Lankheet said. “If you look at times, maybe they didn’t get their best time, but they battled through their pain and finished with a lot of class.”