The Crook County Cowboys appear to be poised to make another strong run at the state cross country championships.
After finishing first in Class 4A two years ago, the Cowboys took second to Crater at the 5A level last season.
Although the team lost some competitors to graduation, if last Thursday was any indication, the Cowboys may be just as strong this season.
"The boys ran tough," Crook County head coach Orie Gonzales said. "We were missing a couple of key folks, but they ran well."
That could be an understatement.
Running without last year's No. 1 runner, Cade Catterson, and without Zach Mauras, who skipped cross country last year to play football but was one of the team's top runners a year ago, the Cowboys still finished second at the Jere Breese Memorial Ranch Stampede.
The Cowboys easily defeated league rivals Redmond and Ridgeview, as well as La Pine, falling only to the Class 6A Summit Storm.
Crook County's Alec Carne, a junior, won the race by more than 30 seconds, finishing the difficult course, which features more than 400 feet of elevation gain and multiple water crossings, with a time of 18:20.4.
"I wasn't really expecting that at all," Carne said. "It felt really good. I ran a lot more miles this summer."
"Alec was way out front and he's been looking great in practice," Gonzales said. "He showed today that he's ready for the season."
Despite not bringing their varsity, the Storm won with a team score of just 27 points. Crook County finished second with 61, while La Pine was third, 87, Redmond fourth, 91, and Ridgeview finished last with 104 points.
Fin Anspach, of Redmond, finished second to Carne with a time of 18:50.7. He was followed by four Summit runners. Crook County's Alex Vail, a junior, finished in eighth place with a time of 20:03.0.
Rounding out the Cowboys scoring were sophomore Van Williams, 12th in 20:48.9, senior Erick Logan, 26th in 22:36.3, and junior Xavier Layne, 31st with a time of 22:57.9.
Other Cowboys to finish the race were Tucker Bonner, 40th in 23:54.9, Austin Strong, 42nd in 24:36.9, Daniel Olson, 43rd with a time of 24:46.3, Azuriah Becker, 61st in 29:09.9, and Kaden Ritter, 65th in 31:24.9.
The Cowgirls also had a strong showing, finishing second to the Storm.
Summit placed six runners in the top 10 as they rolled to an easy victory, finishing with just 20 points.
The Cowgirls edged Redmond for second, finishing with 59 points to 60 for the Panthers.
Jan Carne, a senior, was the top Cowgirls runner, taking fifth overall with a time of 22:57.82.
"I'm really happy with her," Gonzales said. "She ran tough and she said that she was a little lenient coming down. She didn't want to get hurt and I'm happy with that too."
Summit's Barrett Justema, a freshman, ran away with first place, finishing in a time of 21:16.81. Fellow Summit freshman, Camile Broadbent, was second in 21:56.66.
Next in for the Cowgirls was Kennedy Larson. Also a senior, Larson transferred into Crook County from a high school in Texas a year ago, but was unable to compete in cross country.
She finished the course in 19th place overall with a time of 25:41.54.
"I have been coming off some injuries for the past couple of years, so increasing my mileage base this summer has really helped," Larson said. "I was right where I was hoping I would be. I think we all really fought hard, because it's a tough course. I'm just hoping to improve on my time — my time more than placement, but hopefully, Lord willing, I will make it to state."
"I was looking for her to be right up there because she comes to practice and she works hard," Gonzales said. "She's very competitive with the team."
"I expected her to be up toward the front, but I wasn't looking for her to be the second person on the team already though," Crook County assistant coach Chuck Coates added. "That was awesome."
Rounding out the scoring for the Cowgirls were sophomore McCall Woodward, 23rd in 26:09.85, junior Kelcie Ames, 25th in 26:30.56 and sophomore Lindsey Mode, 26th in 26:31.66.
Alao running for the Cowgirls were Anne Carne, 31st in 27:29.20, Marli McClellan, 40th in 29:43.94 and Sammy Thornton, 51st with a time of 40:46.17.
Like the Cowboys, the Cowgirls also had at least one key runner missing as Maggie Ramoss did not compete in the race.
"The girls were really bunched together and I like that," Gonzales said. "It reminds me of how the boys have been the past couple of years."
The Jere Breese Ranch Stampede is not your ordinary cross country race. The race starts on the valley floor, then crosses Ochoco Creek before climbing to the top of the rimrocks above, then plummeting back to the valley floor before once again crossing the creek and running to the finish line.
Much of the race is run through brush, grass, and mud, without a clear trail, making for slow times.
Still, the race is popular with runners precisely because it is so different from most cross country races.
With such a difficult course, the early race is just an indicator of things to come. However, both Gonzales and Coates were pleased with what they saw.
"I want the kids to be smart, keep improving and peak at the end of the season," Gonzales said. "I would like them to just take one meet at a time."
Crook County is expected to have most of their team when they race again, this time at the Intermountain Conference Invitational, which will be hosted by Crook County at Barnes Butte on Saturday, Sept. 7. The girls race will start at 8:30 a.m., with the boys race to follow at approximately 9:15 a.m.
Both Gonzales and Coates expect to get a much better idea of how well the team will stack up against their IMC rivals at the meet, but both believe that the boys can win the district title and once again compete for a trophy at state.
In addition, they believe that the Cowgirls are in contention for a state meet berth as well, something that has eluded them the past couple of years.
"That's our goal," Coates added. "One meet at a time and then District is number one. Right now, I can see both teams getting to state. I really can. But it's district first, then we take state as it comes. That's all you can do."
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