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The Canby women's cross country team to compete at state Saturday, might be best in school's history

By Bob Webber, Assistant Cross Country Coach

With so many sports taking social media by storm, there are some sports of humility and true sportsmanship that fade into the night without most people knowing a single fact of how magical a moment has become.

In fact, the Canby High School XC team of women athletes would probably rather not want recognition and would celebrate all the other sport teams whether they win or lose before celebrating their own victory. Who are these student-athletes?

To know what these women represent, someone would have to know something of their journey towards earning their state championship berth.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB WEBBER - The Canby women's cross country team heads to state in Eugene on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Three years ago, two 10th-graders joined the cross country team for the first time. Emma Ulven was a student in class when I vaguely remember her mentioning she loves to run and shared that her mother works out by running up hundreds of flights of stairs among other types of workouts. Naturally I was persistent enough to get her to join XC. The other 10th-grader was Izabela Kacalek. Izzy began her racing experience as a complete novice who knew absolutely nothing of running, let alone racing. Both Emma and Izzy maintain exceptional grades and are extremely humble.

Last year, while Izzy and Emma returned, four other athletes joined them. Lexy Paez, a ninth-grader, though running as a JV athlete, represents a commitment to the program with hard work and dedication. Similar to Emma and Izzy, as a student, Lexy maintains the same work ethic. She is one of the most polite and hard-working students any teacher would love to have in class.

Kendall Thomas is another ninth-grader who is the little sister of Canby High School's boy standout from the 2015-18 teams, Cole Thomas. I also had the privilege of having Kendall in class where, yes, once again, academic excellence continues to be the theme. Kendall knows she can be helpful in the classroom, but as a distance runner? Well, she has always admired her older brother as a star distance runner. Kendall watched her brother give so much in his races before she even became a high school student and couldn't possibly want to go through all the discomfort and exhaustion her older brother endured; she joins this year's XC team earning the state championship berth.

The two others joining Lexy and Kendall were Jennifer Torres and Kahleia Rose. They were both 11th-graders joining the XC team for the first time. Jennifer is a little more than five-feet tall while Kahleia stands nearly a foot taller. Both these athletes are again exceptional students in the classroom. Head Coach Tom Millbrooke was excited to have them out for XC.

If you have been counting, then you are at six. Triple this number and we have our current roster of 18 women athletes. All of these young athletes have stories most will never know about. We have athletes where every day they run is a hard day. We have athletes who may not run at a varsity level. All of these women athletes express humility and work just as hard in the classroom as the hardest working student you might know.

I make reference to this 2019 XC team at Canby High School as magical. Let me show you why.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB WEBBER - Canby women's cross country athletes have all improved their times.

Be careful when praising one of our fastest runners because they will be the first to remind you that all of the athletes on this team give their best, and humility is always at the forefront of what I think makes this team so special.

Nine of the 12 athletes mentioned above ran a lifetime best at the championship meet while the three others ran within seconds of their lifetime best. What makes the District Championship even more remarkable is the fact they all basically ran their best lifetime performances the week before.

You see, Coach Tom Millbrooke is old-school in preparing his athletes for the biggest meet of the season, the district championship. So naturally, he would expect the best performances at the end of the season. Trying to get athletes to buy into the system of growth and dedication is not necessarily easy with the new fast-pace, social media driven, me-now culture.

Two of the names above, Kaitlyn Doman and Noelani Hernandez helped generate "The Perfect Storm" as Millbrooke would describe it. Kaitlyn and Noelani have been nurturing injuries, yet at the same time pushing the varsity runners towards their leaders in Jennifer Torres and Izabela Kacalek. Kaitlyn and Noelani are both new to XC and started racing from the first moment they put on racing shoes. In fact, Kahleia was fortunate to even compete after being released from hospital care the night before. The "team" needed every event to take place to create the magic these humble, hard-working and very gracious young athletes have created.

Best part about all of this: they have not quite reached the finish line. Seniors Kacalek, Torres, Ulven and Rose have the chance to rank themselves at the top of, arguably, the best team in Canby High School XC history, the 2004 women's team of Traci Newton, Rachel Peters, Katie Evans, Megan Gex, Adrienne Baglien, Renae Stockwell and Katie Price.

As a teacher of 26 years and a coach for the same number, magical teams are very few and far between. Coaching a state champion has happened for Head Coach Tom Millbrooke more than once in his career. Although coaching state champions is an amazing experience, this year's women's XC team at CHS is giving Millbrooke some magic. Of course using his words, "The Perfect Storm" might just as well become magical even for the head coach if the four seniors, plus Kendall, Noelani and Kaitlyn, can muster up one more race for the history books. I couldn't be prouder of this team and all they bring. Congrats to all 18 women athletes. Always be humble and always give your best! Good luck at State on Nov. 9.

I am hopeful the bus we take down to Eugene on the morning of Nov. 9 will be full of people wanting to watch some Canby history, possibly the best XC team in Canby's history.

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