Philomath sophomores Leo Pausch, left, and Lukas Hernandez compete during Saturday's 38th annual Paul Mariman Invitational. Both finished among the individual top 10. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Teammate and classmates Leo Pausch and Lukas Hernandez seem to have a little bit of a rivalry going on this year’s Philomath High cross-country team.

Not unfriendly, mind you, but the type of situation where they keep pushing each other.

Philomath’s cross-country girls dominate Mariman Invite

Philomath High’s girls cross-country team continues to beat all-comers and that was certainly true on a hot Saturday afternoon at the 38th annual Paul Mariman Invitational. The Warriors placed all seven of its runners in the top 15 and junior Adele Beckstead and sophomore Ana Candanoza finished 1-2 in a dominating home performance. Beckstead covered…

Pausch entered this season as the solid No. 1 runner for the Warriors but Hernandez has been coming on and serves as a source of motivation to keep improving. 

“I started out in a good place and then my teammate, Lukas, started beating me for the first time ever and that was my new goal, just being No. 1 again,” Pausch said. “And so today, I accomplished that by changing my race tactics a little bit so I’m feeling good now.”

Competing in Saturday’s Paul Mariman Invitational, Pausch placed seventh in 17:56.6 and Hernandez ended up ninth in 18:05.4. Overall, the Warriors ended up third behind Newport and The Dalles among the 14 schools that had enough runners to qualify for team standings.

Philomath sophomore Leo Pausch closes in on the finish line during Saturday’s Mariman Invite. Pausch was the team’s top finisher with a seventh-place medal. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

“He’s been beating me for the last four years,” Hernandez said about Pausch, which includes their time running together at the middle school level. “But I came out of nowhere and beat him at the (Northwest) Classic and then came back the next week and beat him with my PR of 16:41, which I think was awesome to see what I can actually do. I don’t think this week I really showed what I’m capable of.”

Pausch and Hernandez are still developing the finer points of running high school cross-country.

“They’ll get to the point where they can run with the top guys but they’re both sophomores and they’re learning about racing,” Fulton said.

A major difference was seen with Pausch’s approach the race, a strategy that paid off.

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“Usually, I go out too fast and I finish very dead — I’m struggling to finish,” Pausch said. “But today, I started out at Lukas’s pace, which is a little more balanced than mine and it benefited me in the end. I was not nearly as tired.”

Fulton said he was very pleased to see Pausch showing patience.

“Normally, he would have gone right out there … after a mile, they were back there in 17th and 18th place — Leo and Lukas — and they worked their way up into the top 10,” the coach said.

Hernandez said he typically goes out at a comfortable pace.

“I was kind of surprised that he was right next to me,” Hernandez said. “After mile one, he started picking it up and I thought I was on pace but I might have been too relaxed and kind of just let him go. If I could’ve stayed with him a little longer, I think it could’ve been a little closer at the end.”

Philomath’s boys had six runners competing in the varsity race. Beyond Pausch and Hernandez, junior JJ Lewis was 26th in 19:06.5, sophomore Mason Stevens was 39th in 19:51.6 and freshman Galen Murch was 45th  in 20:01.0 to finish in team scoring positions. Freshman Jacob Hernandez was 57th in 20:51.9 — the race featured 108 runners.

“JJ keeps improving … our other kids, Mason and Galen and Jacob are still learning about what this is all about but they were tough,” Fulton said. “The team that beat us for second, The Dalles, is one of the teams we’re going to have to take on if we want any chance of a fourth-place trophy at state.”

Philomath’s JJ Lewis finished as the team’s No. 3 runner at Saturday’s Mariman meet. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Whoa, Philomath’s boys in the running for a trophy at state? That seemed inconceivable heading into the season with so much experience lost from last year’s team but Fulton has seen nice improvement and anticipates adding senior Simon King to the roster for the stretch run.

“Two months ago, I wouldn’t have even brought that up,” Fulton said. “Newport, obviously, is very strong this year but right now, it looks like our boys are the second-best team in the league and if they make it to state, it’s kind of wide open for that third and fourth trophy.”

Hernandez, for one, hopes to get another chance to run at Lane Community College, which is the site of the 4A championships.

“That state course, I’m going to break my PR on that course,” said Hernandez, who ran a 17:11 there at the Northwest Classic. “I can easily beat that. So I’ll just keep getting ready, running and I have soccer. I think soccer has been a big help getting my legs moving, getting that quick speed and has helped me on the track as well.”

Even though Cottage Grove junior Carter Bengtson finished well ahead of the field to win the individual title in 15:59.7, the Philomath course constructed over the past six weeks is considered “slow.”

Philomath’s Mason Stevens gets sprayed with water while on the course. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

“The main thing is that mulch that we’ve got out there — you cannot get a grip on that,” Fulton said. “The kids are running and so they’re just kind of losing an inch or two every single stride. That’ll change as we get rain and more and more people use it but it’s not particularly fast right now.”

With temperatures in the 80s as the varsity races took place, runners were also battling the heat, which Fulton said was another factor that impacted times.

“If it had been 20 degrees cooler, I think times would have been quite a bit quicker,” Fulton said. “But you know, the times really don’t matter much. It’s how the kids raced and I was pleased with the way our kids raced today.”

Pausch said running through the mulch had been a challenge in practice while wearing training shoes but he saw better results wearing spikes.

“It was a lot better than I thought it would be with the heat and soft mulch and everything but I don’t know, I was able to push the heat out of my mind and just run my best race,” Pausch said. “I did a PR for my time from last year at this course … I ran faster (than in 2022) but a minute slower than usual.”

Pausch’s time on the former Mariman course when he was a freshman came in at 18:06.1. And as he indicated, his PR this season is considerably faster based on the 17:00.3 he ran at the Willamette Golden Hour 5K the previous weekend in Eugene.

Philomath High’s boys placed third. From left, Jacob Hernandez, Mason Stevens, JJ Lewis, Lukas Hernandez, Leo Pausch and Galen Murch. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Elsewhere in boys’ races Saturday, in a six-team junior varsity race, Philomath finished second behind Cottage Grove. The JV Warriors had a top-10 finisher with freshman Oakley Pausch in ninth with a time of 21:29.8.

Sixth grader Riggens Bushnell won the Mariman Invite’s middle school 3K. Eighth grader Samuel Hernandez placed fifth.

Philomath will be back in competition next weekend with the Oct. 14 CG Bramble Scramble at Cottage Grove. The varsity boys are scheduled to race at 2 p.m. There are also divisions for junior varsity and middle school.

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.