Forest Grove runners finish a busy week with strong performances at Nike Pre-Nationals

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Forest Grove senior Corinne Reed sprints to the finish line during last Wednesday's Pacific Conference meet.As regular as clockwork and the changing of the seasons, the Forest Grove cross-country teams are once again proving themselves as belonging among the cream of the Pacific Conference crop.

Last Wednesday, the boys and girls varsity squads showed their speed in winning a seven-team Pacific/Northwest Oregon Conference meet at Meriweather National Golf Club in Hillsboro. On Saturday, the Vikings proved their toughness, braving adverse weather conditions en route to solid performances at the Nike Pre-Nationals invitational in Portland.

With just 22 days until the district meet, both teams are setting themselves up nicely for runs at third consecutive district titles and berths in November’s Class 6A state meet.

The boys team was particularly impressive last Wednesday, plugging four runners into the top seven spots overall. After struggling with a stress fracture in his left hip, a torn right gluteal muscle and calf issues that drastically limited his ability to compete over the past year, Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski continued to show fine form in his comeback, cruising to victory in 15 minutes, 30 seconds on the 5-kilometer course.

“It’s just awesome, the fact that I get to race every week,” Lizier-Zmudzinski said. “Just the competition is what fuels me to keep going. And it’s also awesome to be around the team. Last year, I hung out a lot with them. I was there to support them, but it’s completely different when you’re on it and part of it.

“And I missed the guys a ton last year, and I missed that camaraderie a lot last year. That’s something that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve noticed that I’ve enjoyed this year coming back.”

Isaac Mitchell of Sandy was second in 15:37 and Liberty’s Michael Francy took third in 15:47. After that, though, the Vikings came in waves. Seth Berdahl (15:53), Murimi Nyamu (16:09) and Archer Morgan (16:15) went 4-5-6 to help Forest Grove win the race with 36 points. Liberty took second with 70 and Wilsonville was third with 74.

Everett Fellger (20th, 17:34) rounded out the scoring for the Vikings, and Joey Skeele (34th, 17:53) and Calvin Fischer (45th, 18:49) also competed in the varsity race.

Like their male counterparts, the Forest Grove girls took first place in their field, edging league foe Tigard 53-57. Wilsonville was third with 62 points.

As she has done all season long, Rubi Vergara-Grindell paced the Vikings at the front. She finished third in 19:13, behind Taryn Rawlings of Wilsonville (18:05) and Rachel Khaw of Liberty (18:07), two of the top Class 5A runners in the state.

Emilia Anderson was not far behind Vergara-Grindell, taking sixth in 19:45. Kimberly Heesacker (9th, 20:09), Ellie Schnorr (15th, 20:45) and Elissa Anderson (20th, 20:55) rounded out the top five. Julia Khoury (21st, 20:55) and Corinne Reed (24th, 21:26) also participated in the varsity race.

That result, combined with a narrow three-point dual meet loss to Newberg on Sept. 18, sets up a tantalizing possible three-way battle among the Lady Vikings and the two Tigers squads for the league’s two state berths to the state meet, slated for Nov. 2 in Eugene.

“I feel like we definitely have the potential and the strength as a team to pull it through, but it’s just kind of channeling all this new energy from the freshmen and all these people, and making it work to our advantage,” said Vergara-Grindell, a junior who has stepped nicely into Forest Grove’s top spot this season.

On Saturday, the Vikings battled stiff winds, rain and muddy course conditions that slowed down the fields at Portland Meadows. Racing in the elite Jim Danner Championship division, the Forest Grove boys took a respectable 12th place out of 22 teams — fifth overall among Oregon schools — with 336 points. Gig Harbor (Wash.) took the team crown with 50 points.

After only sitting back in the pack early in the race, Lizier-Zmudzinki worked his way up to 11th place in a field of 164 finishers. He covered the 5K course in 16:39.62. Matthew Maton of Summit won in 15:57.99.

Berdahl was 51st in 17:19.30, Nyamu took 70th in 17:28.84 and Morgan finished 90th in 17:37.78. Fellger (161st, 19:14.37), Duncan Stewart (163rd, 19:24.97) and Skeele (164th, 19:30.27) rounded out the varsity effort for the Vikings.

Lizier-Zmudzinki said the Viking boys have high hopes for this season. A perennial state qualifying team, this year Forest Grove has designs on taking the next step and landing on the awards stand.

“On any given day, we have a shot to be a trophy team at state, one of the top four teams, so that’s exciting,” Lizier-Zmudzinki said. “It’s been our goal for a long time. The program’s never had one on the girls’ or guys’ side. It’s just something that I think we all want to do almost more for (coach Sue) Fleskes than we want to do for ourselves, and for all of the alumni who have been in Forest Grove.”

Forest Grove’s girls finished seventh with 205 points in the Division II varsity girls race, just 15 points back of fourth place. West Point Grey (Vancouver, B.C.) took the win with 40 points.

Vergara-Grindell led the Lady Vikings’ efforts with a 16th-place finish among 156 participants. She was timed in 20:55.48. Emilia Anderson followed in 34th (21:43.29). Heesacker was 44th in 22:13.26, while Schnorr (60th, 22:31.13), Elissa Anderson (61st, 22:32.64) and Khoury (64th, 22:33.17) formed a tight 4-5-6 pack. Reed took 89th in 23:31.78.

While Saturday’s racing conditions were neither ideal nor pleasant, the experience of competing in them could provide dividends during the championship portion of the season, a time when the weather is always iffy.

“The truth is, running in Oregon is not pretty all the time, so I think it’s really good,” Vergara-Grindell said of Saturday’s experience. “Our state meet has pretty much always been raining and cold, so I think it’s a really good thing to get people used to that and for that to not affect the race as much as it would otherwise.”

After several weeks of hard racing, the Vikings have a fairly light schedule this week with the low-key Trojan Relays in Rainier on Thursday. League competition resumes next Wednesday, when Forest Grove takes on Tualatin and Glencoe in Hillsboro. On Oct. 12, the squad will race its final invitational of the season, the Adidas XC Classic at Willamette Mission State Park in Brooks.

Note: Banks also raced in the Nike Pre-Nationals meet. Jamie Borchers led the Lady Braves to an 18th-place result in the Division III varsity girls race. Borchers finished 44th of 144 participants in 23:19.09. Jaime Evers was 95th in 25:17.00. Dallin Shurts was 59th (19:39.45) of 155 finishers for the 20th-place Banks boys.

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