Valley Catholic boys cross country team win third title in four years

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFFREY KAWAGUCHI - The Valley Catholic boys cross country team took its third state championship in four years.

Three years ago, the Valley Catholic boys cross country team won a Class 3A state title with Cooper Roach and Wilder Boyden at the helm. And in 2014, it was Boyden and his running mate Ben Davidson finishing in the top-three of the 4A ranks to help Valley steamroll the state field.

But riding superstars to the summit isn’t all the Valiants are about.

On the contrary, Valley can dig deeper into the well, excavate upwardly mobile stars and achieve state eminence. The Valiants verified that notion on Saturday, winning their third state championship in four years with 58 team points to beat Seaside (79 total points), Phoenix (121), North Bend (147) and Stayton (150) at Lane Community College.

“Everybody really had a stake in the team,” said Valley senior Zane Norville. “We really ran as tight pack together. It was really more of a team effort. One-through-seven was by far the most crucial part of the that race just making sure everyone in that pack worked as hard as they could to get up there. Our team depth was our advantage”

Seaside was the 4A proverbial favorite, having won the Cowapa League Championship this season and the 4A state title in ‘15. Plus, the Seagulls returned virtually all of their state meet contributors from last year. They were the Valiants’ top target, but one that Valley didn’t fear.

This year there wasn’t one or two superstars to lean on and carry the mail, but rather six cogs all churning across the finish line among the race’s top-35 placers. Senior Jamie Kawaguchi took ninth place overall and was Valley’s fastest finisher at 16 minutes and 51 seconds. Then, Norville (16:56) took 12th overall, junior Nate Schmidlin finished 19th overall (17:14), senior Seancarlos Gonzalez (17:18) took 21st overall, freshman Nate Hicken finished 26th overall (17:20) and sophomore Jackson Miller placed 34th (17:29). Junior Jackson Hicken rounded out Valley’s seven runners by taking 72nd overall (18:28). With top level stars or a stable of steady studs, the Valley program is capable of winning a state championship either way.

“We understood we had to run for each other, not for ourselves,” said Kawaguchi. “It’s a lot easier to run in pain when you’re running for your teammates and not for yourself. You kind of get down on yourself when you think ‘What am I doing? How am I doing?’. But, if you’re working for your team, it’s a lot easier.”

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFFREY KAWAGUCHI - Valley Catholic seniors Jamie Kawaguchi (front) and Zane Norville (back) were the Valiants fastest finisher at the Class 4A state championship.

The gap between Kawaguchi and Miller wasn’t broad, which helped the Valiants’ pack push each other during training and races. Gonzalez said Valley’s hallmark was its changeable order of finishers. One day Kawaguchi could snatch the top spot away, other times it was Norville or Schmidlin.

“That showed that guys were pushing each other and improving,” said Gonzalez. “Cross country isn’t just about seven individuals running fast times. You need to work together as a team, run for your teammates and that’s what gives you the mental advantage knowing you’re there for them and they’re there for you.”

Gonzalez stepped up huge in the postseason, running his best races at the Cowapa District Championship and again at state on LCC’s notoriously muddy, tricky to traverse terrain. In his biggest race of the year, after dealing with injuries that prevented him from performing at his peak, Gonzalez set a new personal record on the state course.

“It was an overall great team performance and I’m proud of my performance and the performance we all did together,” said Gonzalez.

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFFREY KAWAGUCHI - The Valley Catholic boys cross country team beat defending Class 4A state champion and Cowapa League District champion Seaside at the state meet.

Norville and Gonzalez both have been a part of all three of Valley’s championship teams, while Kawaguchi transferred to Valley before his sophomore year and sports two titles to his name. Three state banners in four years certainly is grounds for a dynasty, one that’s spanned a classification uptick and a change of the coaching baton from Tommy Manning to Chris Boyle. What’s been the constant thread throughout the years is an inclusive, egoless, no chain of command culture that was sparked before Roach and Boyden and then cultivated by the two future collegiate athletes as they grew into even bigger, more prominent roles. And while their coaches and level of competition have changed, Kawaguchi said Valley’s team aspect never did.

From season to season the same selfless, team-first lessons are passed down from class-to-class. Nobody gets left behind or left out in the cold when it comes to training hard and extracurricular team functions. Going back to June when Valley began training together and stretching into this season when the Valiants would run five or six days a week together, and lay the foundation for another state crown, Valley’s group was a true team.

“Running together helps a lot because you’re all in pain,” said Kawaguchi with a laugh. “You know everybody else is working their butts off, so you have to go just as hard.”

Even in the week leading up to state, Norville said Valley’s illustrious alumni wrote the team long letters and sent well wishes via text or phone calls, encouraging the squad to leave it all out on the course and run for the name on the front of their jerseys.

“It’s really an unending community,” said Norville. “We’re still a part of it even after we graduate. I think that really means a lot.”

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