Philomath sophomore Lukas Hernandez runs the final 100 meters on his way to a fourth-place finish. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Heading into this season, Philomath High’s boys seemed like a longshot to make it back to the state cross-country meet. The program had lost the bulk of its lineup to graduation and most of the top prospects were underclassmen with limited varsity experience.

But that’s all ancient history now. The Warriors will head to state for the 39th time in the last 40 years with a runner-up finish in Saturday’s Oregon West Conference Championships. 

Philomath’s girls earn top trophy at OWC cross-country meet

Philomath sophomore Ana Candanoza had never won a high school varsity race heading into this weekend’s Oregon West Conference Championships. This season alone, she’s had to settle for runner-up honors on three occasions. Running on the home course on a crisp Saturday morning, Candanoza outdueled teammate Adele Beckstead while coming in under 20 minutes to…

“We knew Newport was going to run away with it — they’re the best team in the state,” PHS coach Joe Fulton said. “But I was impressed our boys were tagging their runners as best as they could and the key for our boys after our top three is to try to stay together and they essentially did that the entire way.”

Newport had a 1-2-3 finish with Finn Collson, Connor Brown and Noah Larsen and the team’s top five runners were among the top eight. But Philomath put a competitive crew on the home course with sophomore Lukas Hernandez, sophomore Leo Pausch, senior Simon King and sophomore Mason Stevens all in the top 10.

Hernandez and Pausch were close for much of the race but Hernandez pulled away to end up as the team’s No. 1 runner in this one. He finished fourth in 17:20.1 with Pausch following in fifth at 17:26.0. King had them both in his sights and was seventh in 17:46.9.

PHS senior Simon King has moved into the team’s No. 3 running position. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

King is an interesting story with the program this season. A track and field standout with a reputation as an 800-meter runner, King was ruled out this fall after suffering a broken toe on his left foot in August, an injury that required surgery.

“I recovered a lot quicker than people really thought I would be able to,” King said. “I’m not nearly as fit as I could be but I just want to do anything I can to help these boys.”

King hadn’t competed in cross-country since the eighth grade — and incidentally, he was a top runner with several meet victories back when he was running for the Braves. So why did he go out for the sport this year as a senior?

“I realized we had some potential at the state meet and decided to come out and help support my team,” King said. “I love Joe’s coaching style and love the environment and really enjoy pushing myself to the limits and just seeing how good I can get.”

Of course, cross-country features 5-kilometer courses, which measures 3.1 miles.

“In the 800 when it starts to hurt, I only have 300 meters left and in this race when it starts to hurt, I have 2 miles left,” King said. “So I’ve really got to push myself and work as hard as I can.”

PHS sophomore Leo Pausch placed fifth. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Although King definitely adds to varsity’s point-scoring capabilities, Fulton said he’s seen tremendous growth elsewhere in the lineup over the past nine weeks since a season-opening 3K in Monmouth.

“These other runners have responded — Mason and Galen (Murch) and JJ (Lewis) and Jacob (Hernandez),” Fulton said. “We’ve got a nice nucleus backing up our top three and who knows, we might be able to fight for a fourth-place trophy at state.”

Stevens ran in the team’s No. 4 spot and was ninth overall in 18:36.4. Lewis, a junior, was a couple of spots back in 11th with a time of 18:47.9. Jacob Hernandez, a freshman, finished 12th in 18:56.5. And Murch, also a freshman, was 14th in 19:04.6.

All seven varsity runners earn all-conference recognition based on those results. The top seven earn first-team honors — Lukas Hernandez, Pausch and King. The next seven are second-teamers with those being Stevens, Lewis, Jacob Hernandez and Murch.

PHS sophomore Mason Stevens placed ninth. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In the team standings, Newport won the meet with 20 points and Philomath was second with 35.

Up next will be the Class 4A State Championships Nov. 4 at Lane Community College in Eugene. The varsity boys race is scheduled for a 12:20 p.m. start.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.