Crook County looks to improve on second-place finish
Moving up to Class 5A proved to be no big deal for the Crook County High School boys cross country team.
After winning the Class 4A state championship in 2017, the Cowboys stepped up to Class 5A and surprised almost everyone with a second-place finish.
Although the Cowgirls did not have as much success after stepping up, Crook County head coach Tracy Smith was still pleased with the improvement he saw from the team.
"I just couldn't be prouder of both the boys and girls teams this year," he said. "They really improved, and they had their best performances at the right time. At the end of the year."
The Cowboys won their fifth consecutive district championship, while the Cowgirls finished third at the district meet.
Unfortunately for the Cowgirls, they were unable to qualify anyone for the state championships, with team leader Jan Carne missing a trip to state by just one place.
Not only have the Cowboys excelled despite the step up to Class 5A, Smith has even bigger goals for the team next season.
"At our awards night, I said that we are going to go after first place next year," he said. "Which means that we are going to have to beat Crater. (The Comets have won three consecutive state championships). So we are going to have to dig deep and get some more good recruits."
The Cowboys have four of their top five runners returning next year, including Cade Catterson, who finished 10th at state this year.
Also returning are Alec Carne, Jonas Rice and Alex Vail. In addition, Caleb Phay, who ran on the varsity team at district but was only an alternate at state, returns.
However, the Cowboys lose three runners to graduation, including two who had a significant impact on the team.
Miles Chaney was the second Cowboy in at the state meet, taking 22nd overall, and Smith said that he will be missed both for his talent and his team leadership.
Hunter Eller and Logan Tanner also graduate.
Tanner did not run varsity all year but ran one second faster than Phay at district, moving up to the varsity team for the state meet. Meanwhile, although Eller did not factor into the team scoring at the state meet, Smith said that he was a significant contributor because of his leadership.
"Miles Chaney is a big loss," Smith said. "And Hunter was not really top five, but he was a good strong runner, and he was always encouraging teammates. He was a good teammate for everybody."
However, Smith believes that the team can replace both runners.
Smith has already started recruiting runners, noting that Zachary Mauras, who was part of the Cowboys state championship team in 2017 but played football this past year, is one of the runners that he is looking to recruit.
Although the boys team had no problems stepping up a classification, Smith noted that the step up to Class 5A has been tougher for the girls team due to the talent in the Intermountain Conference.
"The girls, if they would have been in 4A, they would have easily won district," Smith said. "So stepping up has been a little tough for them, but they still came through. They were rated fourth or fifth in district and they ended up third, so I'm really pleased with that."
The district champion Hood River Eagles ran away with the state championship, while second place The Dalles finished ninth at the state meet.
"Hood River Valley is going to be strong again," Smith said. "When Summit was 5A, they were the only team that Hood River Valley lost to, and Summit is one of the best teams in the nation. And I haven't really looked at who The Dalles graduates this year, but they are a strong team."
Smith was quick to add that as tough as other teams in the league are, the Cowgirls should still be competitive next season.
The Cowgirls have six of their seven top runners returning, including Carne, who will be a senior, and No. 2 runner McCall Woodward, who will be a sophomore.
Also returning from this year's varsity roster are Maggie Ramoss, Aubrey Love, Kelcie Ames and Elise Rice. The lone graduate from this year's varsity team is Mckinzee Mode, who was the Cowgirls' seventh runner this year.
JV runners Hannah Dozhier, Jenae Mapes and Elle' Edgerly could also be a factor next season.
Smith added that he expects to see some runners come in from the middle school as well.
"I think that hopefully the girls can get to state next year, and I think they can make a pretty good showing there," Smith said. "It's going to be tough, but I have good feelings about the girls next year. I think they are going to be much stronger."
Even though both teams should be strong next season, Smith is still concerned about the future.
Many of the runners who are projected to be varsity next season on both the boys and girls teams will graduate at the end of the year.
For the past several years, Crook County Middle School has churned out runners who stepped immediately into the high school program.
The middle school program is still strong, but Smith said that he isn't seeing as many dominant individuals as in the past.
"I'm a little concerned about the future," he said. "I don't see a lot of numbers of runners that are coming up from the middle school."
Still, right now, the team is riding a high, and Smith couldn't be more pleased.
"I'm just proud of our boys for believing that they can beat these teams that are better than them on paper," he said. "They just never doubted themselves and always gave their best effort. Especially when it was the most important, they gave their best, and I just couldn't be more proud."