Warriors senior Ben Hernandez, who placed fifth overall and was the team's top runner, enters the track for the final stretch. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

EUGENE — The little changes here and there over the length of a 5-kilometer race might seem inconsequential on the surface — a strong finish in the stretch run moves a runner up a couple of spots. Or, a runner finishes 30 seconds slower than expected while still recovering from a bad cold earlier in the week.

Philomath High girls place 2nd at state cross-country

EUGENE — Philomath High freshman Ana Candanoza got up on Saturday morning not knowing if she would be able to compete in Saturday’s state cross-country meet. A dual-sport athlete, Candanoza came out of a girls soccer game on Wednesday with muscles so sore that she found it a challenge to even move around the house.…

In this sport, it’s those types of circumstances that can make the difference between first and second place. In a showdown between the top two 4A teams, The Dalles survived a strong challenge from Philomath to claim first place. The Warriors had to settle for second after finishing just three points behind the winners in the final team standings.

“We didn’t know anything about The Dalles, we hadn’t seen them all year,” Philomath High’s veteran cross-country coach, Joe Fulton, said after the team accepted the second-place trophy. “They just came down from 5A and I was worried. … but I think we did a fairly good job. I mean, I’d rather they’d be first but I’m OK with second.”

The PHS boys have now finished as the state runner-up 10 times in program history (and that’s counting second place at the 4A Showcase during the 2020-21 pandemic season).

The Warriors placed four runners among the top 16 and compiled 60 points as a team — a number that’s usually good enough for a state championship. The Dalles had four runners in the top 19 but its fifth runner placed 23rd, two spots and 4.1 seconds ahead of Philomath’s fifth runner.

Ben Hernandez wrapped up a memorable senior season with a fifth-place finish overall in 16:26.9. Hernandez said, “The start was definitely what I wanted, you know, right in that 5:10, 5:15 area” but the course at Lane Community College ended up taking a toll — the route was different from what Philomath had run earlier this season at the Northwest Classic.

Marshfield senior Alexander Garcia-Silver runs on a different level than the rest of 4A and he easily won with a time of 15:22.2.

Philomath senior Mateo Candanoza on the LCC course. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Senior Mateo Candanoza completed his successful high school cross-country career with a top-10 showing with ninth in 16:46.2.

“My goal was to just go out hard but not too hard because I knew it was going to be fast,” Candanoza said. “I just kinda dropped off that path a little bit too early.”

Hernandez made a significant move upward after last season’s 25th-place showing at state.

“I’m going to be standing on that podium today so I’m really happy for that and I know my teammate Mateo’s happy to be there, too, with me,” he said.

PHS senior Brody Bushnell finished strong in his final appearance at state cross-country. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Meanwhile, senior Brody Bushnell finished 14th with a very strong second half and freshman Leo Pausch continued to impress.

“Our freshman, Leo, man that was a great race for him,” Fulton said. “And Brody, who’s been dealing with health issues, he came roaring in … I think he passed 21 people in the second half of the race.”

Bushnell’s time was 17:33.8 and Pausch came in with a 17:36.3 to place 16th.

The four runners all earned all-state status with their performances — Hernandez on first team, Candanoza and Bushnell on second team, and Pausch on third team. As far as freshmen, Pausch was the top in his class.

Freshman Leo Pausch in the stretch run at state. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Senior Jesse Erickson placed 26th (17:53.0), freshman Lukas Hernandez was 32nd (17:59.7) and senior Kellen Houchin came in 52nd (18:22.6).

The race included 13 full teams and 98 individuals.

Philomath had a veteran roster this season with five of the seven varsity runners being seniors.

“Since freshman year, we’ve all been super close,” Candanoza said. “We’ve just continued to get closer.”

The group’s not done performing together just yet. They’ll be teammates again in the spring.

Said Hernandez, “With all of our seniors, I can’t wait to see track.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.

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