Ana Candanoza, left, and Adele Beckstead finished 1-2 Saturday in the OWC Championships in Philomath. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

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 earn the first-place medal. The 1-2 finish along with three of their teammates placing in the top 10 helped the Warriors to a dominating team victory and automatic qualification into the Class 4A State Championships on Nov. 4.

Philomath High boys headed back to Eugene

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…

Candanoza and Beckstead were the clear favorites and broke from the pack fairly early with a pace that the others couldn’t match.

“We ran together for the first full lap — we were pretty much side-by-side,” Candanoza said. “And then on the second lap, I felt like we could push harder so we started picking up the pace.”

Candanoza pulled away to win by 4.8 seconds over Beckstead with an official time of 19:55.8. Beckstead, a junior, was clocked at 20:00.6.

“I’ve gained more experience through the season,” Candanoza said. “Our team in the beginning, we were kind of running each individual and then as the season kept going, we started connecting more and pulling for each other.”

Beckstead sees a PHS team that is hitting its stride as the state meet approaches.

“We’ve been emphasizing a lot of the team aspects of running and just working together a lot,” she said.

Both Candanoza and Beckstead were running competitively for the first time in two weeks with both skipping a meet in Harrisburg on Oct. 19. Candanoza had a soccer game to play on the same afternoon and Beckstead needed a break.

“I felt something in my leg before Harrisburg so I just took a few days off,” Beckstead said. “But I’m getting back into it now.”

Coach Joe Fulton said he would like to see his third, fourth and fifth runners grouped together. Here, Lucy King, from right, Hallie Morrison and Melea Lattin get started on the course’s second lap. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Sophomore Lucy King placed fifth in 20:32.2, junior Melea Lattin followed in sixth in 20:36.4 and junior Hallie Morrison was ninth in 20:55.0 to round out Philomath’s point scorers. Junior Kateri Pindell finished 13th in 21:44.8 and junior Hanna McDaniel was 14th in 21:58.6.

Onlookers were moved by the finish of Newport senior Charlotte Gardner, who was in fifth place when she fell to the track with an injury about 30 yards from the finish line. The No. 1 runner for the Cubs, Gardner crawled to the finish and ended up placing 16th overall.

Head coach Joe Fulton said that from a team perspective, he was keyed in on how his third, fourth and fifth runners were running.

“What I’m looking for is Lucy, Melea and Hallie to be close together and they’ve been doing that,” he said. “They kept an eye on each other today and they were all under 21 minutes and this isn’t a particularly fast course. If they can do that at state, we have a chance to upset La Grande.”

All seven PHS runners earned all-conference honors — Candanoza, Beckstead, King and Lattin on the first team and Morrison, Pindell and McDaniel on the second team.

Philomath ended up with 22 points to easily outdistance runner-up Stayton’s 64 and both advance to state at the Lane Community College course in Eugene. La Grande is the defending state champion.

“I think their top four girls are sub-20 runners but they don’t have a very strong fifth,” Fulton said. “So we need Ana and Adele to at least beat their No. 3 runner and stay in the top 10 overall. And then we need our next three girls to stay with their No. 4 runner. If we do that, I think we’ve got a chance.”

PHS junior Kateri Pindell crosses in 13th. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath runners are familiar with the course.

“It’s good, we run it a lot and so we know the course and can kind of pace off of that,” Beckstead said.

On a side note, Philomath had a minor uniform situation involving Candanoza and Beckstead.

“We have some old uniforms that Ana and Adele had been wearing and it’s no big deal in these smaller meets — nobody cares,” Fulton said. “But at the state meet, they would care so I told them that ‘I want you in the same uniforms today so you get used to doing it right’ so they had to switch with a couple of JV girls.”

Although it might seem a little silly, Fulton said he remembered some years ago that the Newport boys team was disqualified from the state meet because they were wearing different uniforms.

The state meet’s 4A varsity girls race is scheduled for an 11:45 a.m. start Nov. 4 in Eugene.

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.