Valiant cross country runners want to be on state squad

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Valley Catholic boys cross country team took second at the Southwest Christian Invite with sophomore Jackson Hicken placing fifth overall.

The starting lineup for the Valley Catholic boys cross country team is a fluid situation.

The seven Valiants who ultimately get to compete at the Cowapa League District meet on Oct. 21 and the Class 4A state championship meet that follows are not set in stone by any means. Though senior mainstays, such as Ben Davidson and Alex Kiss, seem sure bets to be two of Valley's final seven, the remaining five slots are still to be decided based on times and finishes down the road.

That promise of suiting up and racing for a third straight state title has clearly caught the attention of sophomore Jackson Hicken, freshman Jackson Miller and senior Aidan Gillespie.

That trio has designs of breaking into Valley's front pack and used the Southwest Christian Invitational on Oct. 2 as a chance to show head coach Tommy Manning they're varsity material. Taking the Valiants' reins with Davidson and company down south in Bend at the Oxford Classic, Hicken placed fifth overall (17 minutes, 44 seconds), Miller took ninth (18:26) and Gillespie placed 11th (18:43). Senior Jacob Dicken (19:25) and freshman Jack Tetzloff (19:25) finished 17th and 18th, respectively. The Valiants placed second overall as a team with 58 points. Union won the meet with 29.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore Jackson Hicken placed fifth overall at the Southwest Christian Invite.

“We can all rely on each other to do our best and give it our all,” said Hicken. “That really helps when we get later into the postseason. We're so deep and our order changes every week. Last week, I was on varsity, but this week I fell off. We're best friends off the track, but on it we're competing hard. We do what's best for the team. We trust (Manning) to make the right decisions.”

Miller said Valley's final two varsity spots flip on a weekly basis.

“It's intense. You never know what's going to happen next,” added Gillespie of Valley's competition. “(The order) is changing all the time. You never know who is going take the varsity spot. We're all working together and working off of each other and just improving all the time. We take pride in the fact that we have a deep team.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic freshman Jackson Miller placed 12th overall for the Valiants at the Southwest Christian Invite.

Hicken said his goal was to take charge of the race and maintain control. The sophomore owned the race's lead momentarily when he broke away from the pack in the forest surrounding Southwest Bible Church and zipped to the front. Eventually, Hicken was overtaken by Union's Alex Graffunder and Jeremy Baxter, but that did little to rain on Hicken's big moment.

“I had a big rush of adrenaline when I ran past the crowds,” said Hicken. “It felt like I was coming down the homestretch in track. Everyone was cheering for me because I was the leader. It was a really awesome feeling. All of our team has felt that, so we know what our potential is.”

Gillespie said he liked the “tightness” of Valley's running pack, specifically at the start when the Valiants came off the starting line in blue-and-white unison.

“We've been working on trying to keep the team together and inspire the group to run better,” said Gillespie. “It's so much fun to a part of. We can joke around and have a good time, but also perform. It's a mix of hard teamwork and fun running together.”

“We're a really close team, so that helped,” added Miller. “Coming in being a freshman, everyone has treated me the same. It's fun to come out here and race with this team.”

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