Ingrid Hellesto
PHS coach Joe Fulton shouts words of encouragement to sophomore Ingrid Hellesto with about 300 yards to go in the race. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

EUGENE — The odds seemed to be stacked against the Philomath High girls cross-country team heading into a pandemic-shortened spring season that ended Saturday at the 4A state championships.

First, veteran coach Joe Fulton had to work with a roster that featured just seven girls. On top of that, all seven were underclassmen with not one senior among them. Finally, three of those runners were freshmen, and they didn’t exactly tear up their courses at the middle-school level.


So how did this team place seventh at the state meet on Saturday on a course at Marist Catholic High in Eugene?

Sophomore Ingrid Hellesto turned in a top-10 performance, junior Kaeleigh Houchin earned all-state status and freshman Alexa Eckhold reached heights that could not have been foreseen. Finally, all seven ran their best times of the season and that includes those top three along with freshman Phoebe Coen, sophomore Ally Todd, freshman Danielle Harris and junior Audrey Gerding.

“They were expected to finish ninth and I told them there were two teams within striking distance if they really raced their hearts out,” Fulton said, “and they did and they got those two teams and finished seventh. You couldn’t ask for more, they all ran season-bests.”

Philomath High’s girls cross country placed seventh at Saturday’s state meet. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Hellesto broke 20 minutes — by a tenth of a second — to place 10th overall. She admitted that she should’ve had a better approach to how to run the race.

“I didn’t do a very good job of that today,” she said. “Some people came up behind me and I just lost it mentally, but I should’ve picked someone and made it my goal to stay with them. It just didn’t happen today.”

Hellesto’s time came in at 19:59.9, a little more than 5 seconds slower than the personal-record she turned in at the 2019 state meet. However, Hellesto improved her finish from 20th as a freshman to 10th as a sophomore.

She said the team was nervous heading into the competition.

“It’s different than a small race, it’s state, it’s scary with a bunch of teams and I think we were a little scared about how the outcome was going to go because we’re not as experienced as the other teams,” she said.

One of the keys to the program’s success this spring could be found among those freshmen.

“These kids were in the back of the pack in middle school and now they’re on a team that finished seventh in the state high school meet as freshmen,” Fulton said. “We look forward to next year; it’s going to be a good team. We’ve got a lot of young kids coming on next year.”

Philomath’s Kaeleigh Houchin enters the track area for the final stretch of the state cross-country meet. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Houchin placed 26th overall in 21:19.9 and Eckhold was 38th in 22:00.8 — 51 seconds faster than her previous-best time.

“I was nervous but once it started, I was focused,” Eckhold said. “I was trying to pace myself and try to not come out too fast so I could maintain it throughout the whole race.”

And just how did she improve so much from middle school?

“I think it’s just more frequent running, having to run more, practices are four, five, six miles and middle school is three or four,” she said.

Philomath’s Alexa Eckhold was the eighth-highest placing freshman at the state meet. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Coen was 50th overall in 23:17.1 and Todd wasn’t far behind in 23:30.2 for 53rd. Harris finished 58th in 23:42.6. Those three ran together for most of the morning. Gerding ran competitively for the first time since March 6 — she’s been battling a foot injury — and was 65th in 24:03.4.

Junction City senior Anika Thompson placed first overall in 17:57.3 in a bit of a revenge story over Sisters sophomore Ella Thorsett, who was second in 18:22.4. Thorsett beat Thompson for the individual title at the 2019 state meet.

Siuslaw won the team title by six points over runner-up Sisters with Baker a close third.

Oregon 4A State Cross Country Championships
Saturday, April 10, at Marist Catholic High School, Eugene

Team Scoring
1, Siuslaw 81; 2, Sisters 87; 3, Baker 89; 4, La Grande 117; 5, Tillamook 119; 6, Phoenix 146; 7, Philomath 151; 8, Klamath Union 153; 9, Marist 176; 10, Estacada 259; 11, Astoria 300; 12, Corbett 346.
Top 10 Individuals
1. Anika Thompson, Junction City, 17:57.3
2. Ella Thorsett, Sisters, 18:22.4
3. Sarah Pullen, Tillamook, 19:25.4
4. Sydney Keller, Baker, 19:28.2
5. Rylee Colton, Siuslaw, 19:34.7
6. Aliya Larsen, Newport, 19:39.2
7. Emilie Nelson, Marist Catholic, 19:45.0
8. Kyla Potratz, Phoenix, 19:50.0
9. Emily Tubbs, La Grande, 19:50.1
10. Ingrid Hellesto, Philomath, 19:59.9
Other PHS Results
26. Kaeleigh Houchin, 21:19.9
38. Alexa Eckhold, 22:00.8
50. Phoebe Coen, 23:17.1
53. Ally Todd, 23:30.2
58. Danielle Harris, 23:42.6
65. Audrey Gerding, 24:03.4

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