Adele Beckstead leads the varsity girls race. She went on to win by 6.1 seconds over her nearest competitor in 19:36.8. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A glance up and down Philomath High’s varsity lineups in Saturday’s Paul Mariman Invitational reveals a vast difference between the boys and girls cross-country teams.

The boys have an experienced crew on the course with five seniors among their top seven runners — including the top three in Ben Hernandez, Mateo Candanoza and Brody Bushnell. Meanwhile, the girls compete with a much-younger squad with Ingrid Hellesto as the only senior along with four sophomores and two freshmen.

Philomath High’s Joe Fulton wins prestigious award

Philomath High School’s Joe Fulton received a prestigious honor recently when the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named him as its Oregon Coach of the Year for girls track and field. The organization chooses only one coach as its winner from each state. Central Catholic’s Dave Frank was the boys track…

In other words, the boys may feel a sense of urgency to win state in four weeks with so many varsity runners graduating out of the program. But the girls could be in the beginning stages of a dominant stretch with multiple state titles possibly in the cards.

In the weekend home invitational — which is named for the program’s former beloved coach who died unexpectedly in 1997 — the Warrior contingents both took top team honors. Hernandez, Candanoza and Bushnell had top-10 performances for the boys. Adele Beckstead was the individual girls champion and teammate Ana Candanoza placed ninth.

Beckstead, who was named the OSAA Athlete of the Week for Sept. 19-25 following her victory at the Cottage Grove Bramble Scramble, said the season has been going well — both for the team and individually. Only a sophomore, Beckstead welcomes the demands of a 5-kilometer cross-country course.

“It’s very challenging but in a way, that’s kinda what makes it fun — to be able to push yourself each time,” she said after winning by 6.1 seconds over her nearest competitor with a 19:36.8. “I feel like our team is really good … we all work really hard and have good attitudes about it.”

Beckstead’s personal record this season is a 19:16.3 that she ran at the Northwest Classic three weeks ago. That time ranks as the second-fastest in 4A so far this season — 6.7 seconds behind La Grande junior Emily Tubbs.

Philomath freshman Ana Candanoza placed ninth overall. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Warrior girls place 6 runners in top 16

Candanoza, one of those two freshmen on varsity, said the hot sun beating down on runners made the race feel “really long” and commented, “The second loop was really, really painful.”

Many runners will perform well on their home course — the familiarity of the layout or the advantages of not traveling come into play. Candanoza prefers the opposite situation.

“I would rather run somewhere else because I feel better when I don’t know it,” she said. “Because I know exactly how long I have left when we’re here.”

Candanoza finds multiple benefits in long-distance running, including the exhilaration of finishing a well-run 5K.

“I like how it benefits some of my other sports,” said Candanoza, who also plays soccer in the fall. “And finishing races — it hurts really bad when you’re running — but when you’re done, it feels really nice.”

Ingrid Hellesto (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath won the team title with 36 points to easily outdistance runner-up Siuslaw’s 81. Junction City and Klamath Union were a distant third and fourth, respectively. A dozen schools had full varsity teams in the girls’ race.

Beyond Beckstead and Candanoza, Philomath picked up key points with Hellesto’s 12th-place finish (21:28.5), freshman Lucy King and sophomore Kateri Pindell’s tie for 14th (21:51.3), and sophomore Hallie Morrison’s 16th (21:54.8). 

Fulton is working with Candanoza on avoiding the urge to go out too fast at the beginning of a race — perhaps hold back and run with Hellesto.

“Ana maybe went out a little bit too fast but she still hung on … Ingrid took a while to get going,,” Fulton said. “What was really strong for us was Lucy, Kateri and Hallie running together. So we had six girls in the top 16 — that’s kinda hard to beat. Hopefully we can do the same thing at state.”

Sophomore Hanna McDaniel was Philomath’s seventh varsity runner and she came in with a 23:20.9 for 42nd. The race featured 122 entrants.

With the Mariman title behind them, Philomath’s girls will now look ahead to its next major meet on Oct. 15 at the Country Fair Classic. The Oregon West championships follow on Oct. 29 and then it’s the state meet on Nov. 5.

“It should be between us and La Grande because we’ve raced everybody else more or less,” Fulton said. “But La Grande is very strong so we’re not taking them lightly. But we have depth, they have depth; we’ve got some good front runners, they have a good front runner. It should be a pretty tough state meet.”

Fulton will take a squad of girls to a Thursday meet at Sisters.

Philomath senior Ben Hernandez was the Warriors’ top runner and placed second overall. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Hard work paying off for Hernandez

Hernandez has come on strong this season as the team’s No. 1 runner. Referring to last summer, he said, “I put cross-country first instead of just sitting around.”

“Ben put in the miles that he needed to put in and even though he’s playing soccer, I still see him going on long-distance runs,” Fulton said. “He probably is running more distance than the other soccer guys so it’s showing in the races. He’s in good shape.”

Hernandez covered the course in 16:39.9, which is 24.8 seconds slower than his personal-record time of 16:15.1, which he ran at the Saxon Invite early this season in Salem.

“The end goal is hopefully to be under 16 and I know that’s definitely within reach,” he said.

In Saturday’s race, Hernandez tried to create separation running in front during the third mile but the strategy ended up not working in his favor. 

“The first mile felt good, the second mile felt good and then I kinda left the group,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t the smartest decision tactically. As we hit the track, I really couldn’t find another gear. I’m going to have to tweak some tactical stuff and I think I’ll be better next week.”

Hernandez said the course felt good.

Senior Mateo Candanoza placed fifth overall for the Warriors. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“It definitely felt flat and fast — faster than the past couple of weeks,” Hernandez said.

Fulton agreed with his runner’s assessment that he needs to be more patient.

“If you’re going to make a move and you really start opening up a distance, that’s fine. But if you make a move and then they just ride you the rest of the way — those are very good runners,” Fulton said.

Cottage Grove senior Jaden Owens overtook Hernandez and finished 5.3 seconds ahead of him for the individual title in 16:34.6.

“He’s the real deal,” Fulton said of Owens. “All of those guys that were in the top five, they’re going to be fighting for the top five at state.”

The group includes Siuslaw senior Samuel Ulrich (third, 16:42.9), Cottage Grove sophomore Carter Bengtson (fourth, 16:43.3) and Candanoza (fifth, 16:55.6).

“I felt like the heat definitely got to me — it was pretty hot,” Candanoza said. “I didn’t really have a strategy today. I want to run fast but I think I went too fast in the first lap.”

Warriors senior Brody Bushnell placed ninth for the boys. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Bushnell placed ninth in 17:47.2 and freshman Leo Pausch held off a couple of other runners down the stretch to finish 12th in 18:06.1. Senior Jesse Erickson (23rd, 18:45.6), freshman Lukas Hernandez (31st, 19:02.8) and senior Kellen Houchin (34th, 19:06.0) rounded out the varsity lineup. The boys’ field included 149 runners.

In the team race, Philomath won with 46 points to beat out Siuslaw’s 63. Valley Catholic was third and Marist Catholic fourth. Eighteen schools had full varsity teams participating.

Fulton said he won’t take a boys team to the Clash in the Cascades Thursday at Sisters. The boys soccer team plays Thursday as well and many of the team’s runners are also participating in that sport.

The meet’s unique tree trophies

Philomath High’s unique trophies were awarded at the end of the meet with special guest Gordy Byers helping with the presentations. Live trees are given to the top four varsity teams and the winning JV and middle school teams.

The Paul Mariman Invitational gives out unique trophies to top teams and individuals. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Fulton estimates that the tree trophies have been awarded at Philomath High for about 10 years now.

“I don’t know what the other schools are like but we have many cross-country trophies and we have no place to store them,” Fulton laughed. “So I started thinking, ‘well, in cross-country, almost everybody has their own course and if we give them a live tree, they can take it home and plant it on their course.’ And it seems to be pretty popular.”

In fact, Siuslaw coach Chris Johnson has mentioned to Fulton how their planted trees are coming along.

“He likes to talk about the trees he’s won at Mariman and how tall they are now,” Fulton said.

In the past, Philomath had covered the cost of the trees but this year, Garland Nursery donated them all, Fulton said.

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.