Warrior girls finish strong at district cross-country meet to qualify for state

SWEET HOME — While the last few runners finished up the course on Saturday morning at the Oregon West district meet, Philomath High cross-country coach Joe Fulton and assistant Tyler Thomas were quickly going through results to see if the Warriors’ girls had beaten Stayton for second place and a trip to state.

Fulton knew it was going to be close, possibly even coming down to a tiebreaker. Based on their calculations, the coaches were fairly confident that Philomath would be competing the following weekend. Then the official results were posted to reveal that yes, Philomath indeed had beaten out the Eagles for the runner-up spot behind district champion Sisters.

“They came through in that last half of the race; they knew exactly what they had to do,” Fulton said. “I think they realized pretty early that Sisters was going to run away with it so then it came down with trying to stay up with Stayton and they did.”

Philomath sophomore Ingrid Hellesto’s second-place finish was important for the team. Sisters sophomore Ella Thorsett won in 20:14.5 with Hellesto runner-up at 21:08.7. Newport junior Aliya Larsen finished about 5 seconds behind Hellesto, who said she just focused on herself for the race and didn’t worry about Thorsett, the fall 2019 state champion.

“It’s hard mentally at first because you’re knowing what’s coming but I like to reset myself, fix my form, fix my breathing, just go out and push myself,” Hellesto said.

Kaeleigh Houchin
Philomath’s Kaeleigh Houchin had a top-10 finish at the district meet. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Junior Kaeleigh Houchin placed ninth in 22:54.7, freshman Alexa Eckhold was 13th in 24:30.8, freshman Phoebe Coen finished 16th in 24:45.0, freshman Danielle Harris took 19th in 25:45.3 and sophomore Ally Todd was 23rd in 26:54.8.

“We were out there letting them know how many Stayton girls were in front of them but those freshmen girls really came on,” said Fulton, referring to Eckhold, Coen and Harris. “They were getting beat by five Stayton girls halfway through the race and they worked their way up into the pack.”

Todd needed to finish ahead of Stayton’s sixth runner.

“Just in case it would’ve ended up a tie, we still would’ve gotten it because our sixth runner beat their sixth runner for Stayton,” Fulton said, talking about Todd. “That was her job, she knew she had to do that.”

Philomath just ran on the same course two weeks ago at the Husky Invitational. The course features a level of difficulty that keeps runners from getting personal-best times but competitors said it felt easier this time around.

“It was a more challenging course, it wasn’t very flat, but everybody had to do it,” Houchin said. “It has its pros and cons.”

Houchin has been Philomath’s No. 2 runner all season. She was glad to see the team have the opportunity to compete.

“It was really nice … I had to get in shape because I was so out of shape in quarantine,” Houchin said with a laugh. “Other than that, it was good, it was really fun.”

With just seven athletes in the program — junior Audrey Gerding wasn’t able to run Saturday with an injury — the girls are pretty close.

“It’s a really small group, and a young group for sure, and we all just encourage each other and you run together,” Hellesto said. “It’s just a really nice experience together.”

Alexa Eckhold
PHS freshman Alexa Eckhold runs the final 50 yards of Saturday’s race. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The youth factor did lead to some nervousness for the girls heading into the meet.

“All of the kids were way more nervous today than any other meet this year and for good reason,” Fulton said. “This meet really counts, this is a meet that matters … the rest of them we were using to get in shape.”

The state meet, arranged by coaches, is scheduled for Saturday in Eugene at Marist High School. The girls’ race will start at 11:15 a.m.

“I’m really glad they decided to have a state meet,” Hellesto said. “As many meets as we have done, I’m really glad we’ve had the opportunity (for a season).”

Fulton said this young group accomplished something special this spring.

“It’s just amazing that those girls made it,” he said. “I think this is our 39th year in the last 41 that they’ve made it to state but this is by far the least-experienced team.”


Oregon West Conference District Meet
Saturday at Community Chapel, Sweet Home

GIRLS
Team Scoring
1, Sisters 40; 2, Philomath 55; 3, Stayton 60; 4, Newport 103; 5, Sweet Home 104; 6, Cascade 142.
Top 10 Individuals
1. Ella Thorsett, Sisters, 20:14.50
2. Ingrid Hellesto, Philomath, 21:08.70
3. Aliya Larsen, Newport, 21:13.50
4. Pearl Gregg, Sisters, 22:17.10
5. Hope Bridge, Stayton, 22:29.90
6. Jessy Hart, Sweet Home, 22:38.30
7. Myranda Marquez, Woodburn, 22:45.60
8. Maddy Mitzel, Stayton, 22:51.70
9. Kaeleigh Houchin, Philomath, 22:54.70
10. Brooklyn Liddell, Sisters, 23:42.10
Other PHS Results
13. Alexa Eckhold, 24:30.80
16. Phoebe Coen, 24:45.00
19. Danielle Harris, 25:45.30
23. Ally Todd, 26:54.80

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