Ingrid Hellesto
Ingrid Hellesto competes in last spring's state meet. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

This past spring when Philomath coach Joe Fulton put together his starting lineup for a girls cross-country meet, he really had no decisions to make — the program had a mere seven runners on the roster.

Six months later, the girls’ roster is nearly three times the size and features such a high level of talent that a few runners who helped the Warriors to a seventh-place finish at the state meet last season might not even be in this fall’s varsity lineup.

RELATED: BOYS CROSS-COUNTRY SEASON PREVIEW

“It’s so loaded … I could have a JV girls team that’ll beat most varsity teams in the state, it’s that good,” Fulton said. “The girls know — especially the girls that are not clearly in the top two or three — they know that they need to fight to keep those positions because it could change.”

Junior Ingrid Hellesto was clearly the team’s top runner last season with a 10th-place finish at the state meet. But this season, she’ll be pushed by freshman Adele Beckstead.

“They seem to be neck-and-neck,” Fulton said. “Ingrid, I think, was a little bit surprised (in practice) because Adele wouldn’t let her get away and Ingrid’s used to leading all of the time in practice and in races.

“Adele is in great shape and has a wonderful attitude and so that’s going to make a huge difference for us,” Fulton added.

Beckstead is not the only freshman that will have an immediate impact on the program. Freshman twins Brooke and Hannah McDaniel appear to be solid candidates for varsity spots. Kaeleigh Houchin, who was Philomath’s second runner at state last spring, returns for her senior season. Sophomore Alexa Eckhold, another state competitor last year, is also in the mix, Fulton said.

Freshman Hallie Morrison and senior Audrey Gerding have looked promising so far in practice as the season approaches.

Sophomores Phoebe Coen and Danielle Harris, and junior Ally Todd — all runners at state last season — may have a tough time cracking the top seven for varsity this season. In addition, the coach mentioned that there are “promising-looking freshmen that just aren’t in shape yet” who could have a say in how things shake out.

Fulton stressed that the situation could evolve as the team goes through its fall schedule. He said the girls with that experience from last season could have an edge in one way.

“Workouts and races are two different things,” Fulton said. “People can be really good in a workout but when the guns go off, they’re not so tough after all and the kids with a little more experience come through. I’m certainly not counting out any of the girls that made varsity last year.”

Dual-sport athletes make up the majority of the boys’ squad but on the girls’ roster, Fulton said there are only two in soccer players Petra Hernandez and Kateri Pindell. In all, Philomath enters the first meet with 20 girls on the roster.

Philomath’s girls were ranked No. 2 in a preseason coaches poll published by OSAAtoday. The ranking was likely the result of coaches knowing Philomath had all underclassmen at last spring’s state meet. Fulton said his team deserves the ranking, but for other reasons.

“I’m surprised that people ranked them because they don’t know that we’ve got all of these young runners coming in. But they do know that our entire team is back from last year that finished seventh, so they figure, ‘well they’ll just be better this year’ but they don’t realize how much better we’re going to be.”

Returning this season as assistant coaches for cross-country are Diana Bushnell and Tyler Thomas.

The season opens Saturday at The Ultimook Race, a unique course that runs through Hydrangea Ranch near Tillamook.


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