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The first-year cross-country runner has gone from an unknown to potential state contender.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOBBY KIRKMAN - Forest Grove senior Jacob Friesen has impressed this year as member of the Vikings cross country team. Friesen previously played soccer and ran track for Forest Grove, only this season competing in cross country.Ever run cross country? No?

Well, Forest Grove's Jacob Friesen hadn't either prior to his senior year, but despite the lack of experience typically necessary to rub shoulders with the elite, the Vikings harrier is making a name for himself amongst the state's best off-road distance competition.

"I feel like it's going way better than I expected because this is my first year doing cross country," Friesen said. "I didn't really have any expectation coming into the year, but it's going really well."

Yes, it is.

Through 10 events this season, Friesen finished seventh amongst 223 competitors at the Ash Creek XC Festival event Sept. 10, and placed first everywhere else, including at the Lewis & Clark Invitational at Milo McIver State Park outside of Estacada.

Forest Grove head coach Adrian Shipley said he's been impressed with the senior's performance on the course, but not surprised, due to Friesen's intense love for competition.

"Jacob loves competing," the coach said. "From summer practices with teammates to his first-ever cross country race, you could see he craves competing against others. What better sport to challenge yourself and compete head-to-head with others at the same time?"

Friesen isn't altogether new to endurance sports. Prior to this year, he played soccer and competed in track and field at Forest Grove. His freshman year was wiped out by COVID-19 and his sophomore year was abbreviated as a result of the ongoing pandemic, so it wasn't until last spring that he got his first real taste of running competitively — and the experience left him wanting more.

"I had a ton of fun with it and I really enjoyed the people who do it," Friesen said. "So, I decided I wanted to keep doing it, and hopefully I'll get to run in college."

COURTESY PHOTO: BOBBY KIRKMAN - Forest Grove's Jacob Friesen during the Vikings' dual meel with Newberg Sept. 21. The senior has impressed this year as member of the Vikings cross country team. Friesen previously played soccer and ran track for Forest Grove, only this season competing in cross country.While cross country times can often be deceiving as a result of differing courses with differing terrain, Friesen's rate of improvement has been astonishing. He ran 16:54.9 in his initial 5,000-meter race held at Forest Grove High School, by Ash Creek two weeks later had shaved a minute off of his time, and a month after that ran a personal-best 15:26.1 in his victory at Lewis & Clark.

Friesen admitted being a bit taken aback by his success. He attributes that success to his coaches, whom he said push him and his teammates to be their best.

"Coach Shipley and Coach Lewis have really pushed me to be a better athlete," he said. "They're really great coaches and super-passionate and they commit a ton of time to the team. I think that's a big factor in what's allowed me to run as I have this season."

While running is fundamentally innate, racing is far from it. Contrary to the laymen's view of the sport, strategy can often play a huge role in a runner's success or failure against their opponents. Friesen said his coaches have tried to impose that on him over the past couple of months and it has in turn allowed him to run more intelligently, which has manifested itself in his growing success.

"My coaches give me really good coaching tips and really try to get me and my teammates to be composed while running," Friesen said. "Then in the final mile, try to get us to push ourselves to give everything we have left and work on winning in the last 300 meters."

Friesen speaks often of his teammates when asked about his own success, and while he's new to the team, Coach Shipley said he's learned in a relatively short time that the senior has become an asset to the program not only this season, but in the years to come.

"In addition to being a dedicated athlete and natural team leader, Jacob has also impressed the coaches with his character," Shipley said. "We know that regardless of the results of the season, Jacob has made a lasting impact on the program and we know he'll continue to thrive in both cross country and track if he continues to pursue it in college."

COURTESY PHOTO: BOBBY KIRKMAN - Forest Grove's Jacob Friesen (right) with teammate Isaac Davenport (left) during the Vikings' dual meet with Newberg Sept. 21, at Forest Grove High School.During Friesen's early days in track, he was able to witness firsthand former Viking Quincy Norman's routine.

Norman, a 2019 Forest Grove graduate, currently runs cross country and track at the University of Oregon. While running for the Vikings, Norman captured two conference cross country titles and twice finished third at state.

Norman's success and the way he went about his business didn't go unnoticed by Forest Grove's latest phenom, and he's using that knowledge — and Norman's numbers — to motivate himself as the season's biggest events approach.

"I remember everyone was doing a workout and then Quincy had, like, his own workout that was completely by himself," Friesen said. "That was so inspiring to see that, because he was working super-hard and his times were so great. Seeing those records have definitely pushed me and made me believe it's possible to run that fast."

Friesen said he and his teammates have also been doing extra work, often lifting and working out before school. He's seen that work pay off over the course of the season, and he believes that with continued work, they'll experience even more success with the district and state championships looming.

"I think if I keep working hard, the results will come, but I'm not focused on that," he said. "The team has all been working super-hard, and we all want to go to state, so hopefully we'll have success at districts."

Shipley has seen that work as well. He is excited to see Friesen and the entire Vikings team when it matters most.

"Jacob has been looking forward to the races with the most competition all season, and I cannot wait to see he and his teammates race when it matters most at districts," the coach said. "Jacob has prepared himself and encouraged his teammates to be ready for anything."

The Pacific Conference District Championships are scheduled to be held Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Joe Dancer Park in McMinnville, and the OSAA State Championships are scheduled for Nov. 5 at Lane Community College in Eugene.

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