To wrap up her freshman season in cross-country, Philomath High’s Ingrid Hellesto shattered her personal-best time. The performance occurred at the Class 4A state track meet in November 2019 and Hellesto’s 19:54.6 was good for a top-20 finish and among the Warriors’ runners, second only to Oregon State-bound Hannah Hernandez.
Teammate Kaeleigh Houchin finished 21st at state and was only a few seconds off her PR. Hellesto and Houchin represent the top returning runners for Philomath High’s girls cross-country team. Beyond those two, the roster gets thin.
“It’s probably the smallest, youngest and most inexperienced team I’ve ever had, but I kind of like that because that’s what coaching is all about, getting a challenge like this,” PHS coach Joe Fulton said. “We just love these girls.”
The Warriors lost Hernandez, Rivers Nuno and Madison Bushnell to graduation and some other members of last year’s team are not on the roster for various reasons.
“Obviously, Ingrid is a state-level runner and Kaeleigh has the ability to be a state-level runner,” Fulton said. “But then it’s hard to say who’s going to be our 3, 4 and 5.”
Freshmen Phoebe Coen and Alexa Eckhold, and junior Audrey Gerding appear to best be in position for those spots within the lineup. Fulton said Gerding has experience, running under 22 minutes last season, but she’ll need to run into better shape as the season wears on.
Sophomore Ally Todd and freshman Danielle Harris round out the roster.
Fulton said the three freshmen — Coen, Eckhold and Harris — were middle-of-the-pack runners in middle school but have shown significant improvement at the high school level. Coen has been especially impressive.
“In middle school, she ran 16:16 for a 3K, which is about 5:25 per kilometer,” Fulton said. “Well, she’s already run a 25-minute 5K, which is 5 minutes per kilometer for two additional kilometers … It’s remarkable how much she’s improving.”
In addition, Fulton described Eckhold as a “super tough” and “gutsy” runner who will also be a major contributor.
Fulton said the group of seven athletes are excited about the season.
“They realize they’re all varsity because we have exactly seven, so they’re all taking it seriously, they’ve started training hard,” Fulton said. “They didn’t train all that hard during the winter but they’re training hard now.”
The team team opens at a three-school meet on Thursday in Florence against Siuslaw and Tillamook. Then on Saturday, the team heads to the Harrier’s Challenge at Dorena Lake east of Cottage Grove.
“They run straight up a cliff alongside the dam and it’s just as steep as can be,” Fulton said. “Most people are crawling up it, but it’s fun and the kids like it.”
The district meet is scheduled for April 3 at Sweet Home. Coaches in Class 4A are working out the details for a state meet on April 10 either at Eugene or Tillamook.
Fulton is in his 25th season as the head coach of Philomath’s cross-country program. Diana Bushnell and Tyler Thomas are assistants again this season.
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