PHS junior Adele Beckstead placed fifth at last year's state meet in Eugene. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In two years of high school cross-country, Philomath High’s Adele Beckstead has never finished lower than seventh — and that came as a freshman in the state meet.

Now a junior, she brings the very good habit of winning into a new season having finished first in 10 of her 16 varsity races. The local program’s top runner at state last year, the hard-working Beckstead is among the top returnees on a squad that is expected to compete again for the state championship.

Ana Candanoza brings back a big dose of running talent for the Warriors. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“Our goal is to win state,” PHS cross-country coach Joe Fulton said. “The last two years, we took second and we’re not giving up. We’re going to go after it again this year and if we come up short, we’ll win it next year. We’re just going to keep doing it until we win it.”

Sophomore Ana Candanoza is another top returnee after placing 17th at state last season and turning in a memorable performance in the 3,000 at this past spring’s state meet.

Philomath will again need to deal with La Grande to reach the top in Eugene this fall — the Tigers had the second-, third- and fourth-place runners at last season’s state meet. But Beckstead was right there in fifth just 4 seconds out of fourth and 7 seconds out of third.

This past spring at the state track meet, Beckstead, Candanoza and the La Grande girls all ran close in the 1,500 and 3,000.

“We know we can run with them now, so I think our chances are pretty good,” Fulton said. “I think we’ll certainly put up a better fight this year than we did last year because Ana’s improved so much and Adele’s just as good as she’s ever been. I’d put them up against the La Grande girls any day.”

The Warriors did lose Ingrid Hellesto to graduation but picked up a key roster addition with junior Melea Lattin, who has been a track standout for the Warriors over the past two springs.

“That’s huge for us to have a runner of her stature. She’s a 5:06 1,500 runner and has never done cross-country but she’s in good shape,” Fulton said. “And Lucy King is getting better all the time and she’s very close to Melea. So we’ve got a great top four plus all sorts of backup.”

Juniors Kateri Pindell, Hallie Morrison, Brooke McDaniel, Hanna McDaniel and Kyah Weeber will be in the mix for varsity spots along with the team’s three lone seniors, Phoebe Coen, Alexa Eckhold and Danielle Harris.

“We’re loaded on the girls side,” Fulton said. “It’s a very good team.”

Philomath has won eight state titles in its girls cross-country history but hasn’t claimed the top trophy since 2003.

Boys lost lot of experience

The Dalles had just enough firepower on the course last fall in Eugene to edge the Warriors by three points for the state title. The heavy-senior Philomath roster included the likes of Ben Hernandez, Mateo Candanoza and Brody Bushnell — all top 15 finishers who have moved on after earning their diplomas.

In fact, five of the seven runners that competed at state are now gone. That means a youth movement is occurring in a PHS program that has seen its share of success over the years with four state titles and 10 runner-up trophies.

“What we are returning are two good sophomores in Leo Pausch and Lukas Hernandez,” Fulton said. “After that, we’re looking at JJ Lewis, he’s a really hard worker but he was a JV kid last year and we have a couple of freshmen kids who look like they have potential but they’re completely inexperienced in Galen Murch and Jacob Hernandez.”

Simon King, a senior who was going to run cross-country for the first time this fall, unfortunately suffered a serious injury to his toe and will miss the season, Fulton said. King had the potential to excel on the long course with a history of success in track and staying in exceptional shape this summer.

Pausch and Hernandez were the two PHS underclassmen to compete at state last season. Pausch was the top freshman in the race with 16th overall and Hernandez was among those finishing in the top third of the field.

Fulton said the school has more endurance athletes out there but they’re involved in other fall sports. He’s hoping a few of those boys will consider becoming a dual-sport athlete since cross-country comes with a lot of flexibility in terms of practice and almost never conflicts with game days.

“If we can get two more guys, we’d be solid,” Fulton said, adding that there are prospects among the JV-level kids but admitted they need to build up more endurance to have impact in a varsity race.

PHS sophomore Leo Pausch (No. 717), seen here at state last fall, is the team’s top returning varsity runner. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A look at the schedule

Philomath opens the season Friday with a 3-kilometer race on a Western Oregon University course in Monmouth. A brand new meet that organizers are calling The Opener, the Warriors will be one of the smaller schools competing.

“It’s mainly for me to see who our varsity kids are before we start running 5Ks,” Fulton said. “There’s a lot of big 5A, 6A schools that are going to be there. Our girls should do quite well against them but it’s not a meet that we’re focused on that we’ve got to win.”

The following week, Philomath makes its traditional appearance in The Ultimook Race at Hydrangea Ranch near Tillamook.

“It’s just fun but we still like to win because they’ll have one race for 4A and below and then another race for 5A and 6A,” Fulton said. “So we’re just competing against teams that we’ll be seeing this year.”

In late September, Fulton said the varsity squads will split up with the boys running Sept. 29 at the Willamette Golden Hour 5K in Eugene and the varsity girls heading north to the Nike Portland meet in Oregon City.

The Cottage Grove Bramble Scramble on Oct. 14 will feature an interesting twist with races to take place during a solar eclipse. This year’s Oregon West Conference Championships are scheduled to be staged Oct. 28 at Stayton.

Joe Fulton is in his 28th year as Philomath High’s head cross-country coach. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Status of Mariman meet

After a recent tree-clearing project at Downing Forest, Fulton believed the Paul Mariman Invitational wouldn’t be able to happen with the course negatively impacted. But the coach appears to be more positive about the possibility that runners will be competing on site Oct. 7.

“I think it’s going to happen. (Middle school coach) Brian (Skaar) is super enthusiastic — I’m not all that thrilled about running through this but it’ll just continue to get better as the years go by,” Fulton said while looking over the site Monday afternoon.

Fulton was not pleased to see the course disappear through the timber removal work that had been done but said there has been an outpouring of support and productive meetings in response to the challenge at hand.

“People are offering help — coming and working, equipment, money — everybody wants to help out,” Fulton said. “The school district and the city have come together. Rick Wells, who is on the School Board, has offered to bring in truckloads of dirt.”

With work now being done on the site, Fulton expects to make a final decision by the first week of September about whether the course will be adequate for the home invitational.

“We’ll eventually get this stuff cleaned up and I’m sure (PHS forestry instructor) Simon (Babcock) plans to come in and replant and we’re taking advantage of wherever there are a few trees to make sure we run through those,” Fulton said.

The veteran coach then added, “I just want to make sure when I retire, I leave behind a cross-country course that’s worthy of Paul’s name.”

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.