INDEPENDENCE — Central cross-country coach Eli Cirino knew he had a tough day ahead of him.
After watching the Panthers’ girls and boys teams take second and third, respectively, at Mid-Willamette Conference meet at Central on Oct. 15, Cirino spent the evening making his final decisions for varsity rosters for the MWC Championships scheduled Wednesday (today) at Crystal Lake Sports Park in Corvallis.
“It’s very exciting,” Cirino said. “We had a few surprises and I had some tough decisions, but we know we’re trying to compete. You have to remove the sentimental part and it is what it is.”
The top three teams at the district meet advance to the state championship meet, along with the top seven individuals not on a qualifying team.
The Panthers’ girls are looking to qualify for state.
Sophomore Abby McBeth, freshman Bailie Hartford, junior Jamie Smith, freshman Annie Taylor and freshman Beatriz Trujillo will be Central’s top five runners. Cirino, who said he thought about running experienced seniors in the final varsity spots, decided to run junior Keighlee Riggan and freshman Anne Marie Hasbrook instead.
“With so many kids so close together, I honestly felt like any of those seven could score in the top five for our team and that it could hurt our chances to run slower seniors,” Cirino said. “Beatriz blew up at tat last meet and is now our fifth fastest girl. It’s exciting that four of our top eight girls are freshmen and that they will all return next year.”
Central is expected to be in a three-way battle for the final team qualifying spot with Lebanon and Silverton, while McBeth, Hartford and Smith are projected to qualify as individuals if the team does not.
Despite having a trip to the state cross-country meet on the line, Cirino isn’t worried about runners psyching themselves out.
“We have a very serious side, but we also have a goofy and loose side,” Cirino said. “At practice, we talk about childish stuff, but when it comes time to talk about the team potential, they absolutely know how to get serious. That goofiness helps them stay loose.”
The boys team will field a lineup of Zach Meyer, Darien Hume, Ammon Jeffries, Tucker Engle, Josh Peterson, Pedro Garcia and Josh Dickson.
Today’s meet will likely mark the end of the season for the boys. But Cirino said the Panthers are looking to end on a high note and have something to prove.
“Individually, it’s probably unrealistic for them to qualify,” Cirino said. “The goal right now is to not finish last in our league. They realize they’re in a new league and have some tough competition. But we looked really strong against Dallas and they’d like to not finish in last. Our gap between our top runner and our fifth runner has closed, which is really exciting.”
Dallas’ boys and girls cross-country teams know they aren’t expected to qualify for the state cross-country meet.
That’s not stopping them from trying their best to put people on notice.
The Dragons will run Jesse Stuhr, T.J. Cross, Isaak Tichenor, Seth Fast, Ryan Bibler, Cody Tilgner and Matt Ashford for the boys and Hannah Johnson, Elizabeth Sutton, Angie Sletten, Alena Voss, Leah Miller, Emmalee Jones and Catherine Rocak for the girls.
Dallas’ girls and boys teams are projected to take sixth and seventh place, respectively in the team standings.
“We trained hard and worked daily on mental toughness” Dallas coach Monique Lankheet said. “My hope is that everyone runs to their true potential. If we compete, like I believe we can, we will all be successful. Everything else wil take care of itself.