Vanguard rally to place ninth at state
EUGENE — Already the smallest program at the 3A/2A/1A boys state cross-country meet, Veritas had enough to deal with going into the meet Saturday at Lane Community College.
The Vanguard had already been dealing with injuries, including a debilitating shin injury to senior Luke Wassei, who was the team's fifth runner in the first month of the season before being hobbled in early October.
Paced by sophomore Cam McChesney, who earned a medal by placing 10th, and pushed from the back by Wassei, who gutted out the race, Veritas improved two spots from last year to place ninth.
The Vanguard actually finished in a tie with Pleasant Hill at 248 points, but Wassei came in 38 seconds ahead of the Billies' sixth runner to give Veritas the edge.
"He was in pain before he even ran the race," Veritas coach Ken McChesney said. "If he had not been there, we would have lost the tiebreaker, so I'm just really proud of him."
Wassei crossed in 20:52 to close out his career on a much higher note than his 107th-place individual mark would likely have produced otherwise.
"I just knew that my team needed me a lot," Wassei said. "So I just laid my difficulties down and just ran. It was hard, but it turned out that my effort did bring a reward after all, so I'm happy."
Cam McChesney improved upon his 23rd place finish from a year ago, also dropping 31 seconds to cross the finish line in 16:57.
"The second year was a big difference because last year I went out way too fast," he said. "Since I learned from what I did last year, I slowed down my first mile a little bit and that ultimately helped me have a better race overall."
Brothers Thomas and Will Lattus were second and third, respectively, for Veritas. Thomas, a senior, posted a time of 18:37 to place 59th, with sophomore Will just behind in 63rd at 18:51.
The pair led a strong effort from the Veritas pack, which had one of its tightest splits from the second to the fifth spot of the season, which not only helped the Vanguard edge Pleasant Hill, but also overtake rival East Linn Christian, which had taken second at districts but was 13th at state (294).
That included a season's best time of 19:08 for senior Thaddeo Pia, who finished the final 1,000 meters of the race with one shoe, ultimately placing 72nd after losing his footwear in the mud on the third lap.
"I ran the rest of the bowl with the shoe loose, kind of just flopping around," Pia said. "When I got to the top of the bowl, I just threw it off, picked up my shoe and kept running. It was not necessarily the best way to finish, but it was definitely quite a story, absolutely."
Also stepping up to the occasion was junior Simon Winnika, who posted a new PR of 19:33 to place 87th. Freshman Ransom Smith also set a new personal best in placing 114th in 23:08.
"Especially with Luke getting hurt, we knew we had some trouble from October on," Coach McChesney said. "Simon has just really stepped up well to take that fifth-place role."
The Vanguard also made progress on another team goal by moving closer to Southwest Christian, which placed eighth (225) to finish as the top 1A team in the state.
"We all just came back way stronger and way faster," Cam McChesney said. "We had three seniors this year who all put it out on the line at state, so I'm really proud of those guys."