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On Oct. 12, Molalla's harriers went stride for stride against strong foes at McIver Park

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Molallas boys team finished fourth place out of 11 at the Estacada Invitational on Oct. 12.

Molalla's cross country teams made the trip up to Milo McIver Park in Estacada on Wednesday, Oct. 12, along with 17 other teams to compete in the Estacada Invitational. The trip was a fruitful one for Molalla. Both the boys and girls teams placed fourth, and 12 of the 13 varsity runners who competed set personal bests; the 13th racer set a season best.

It also was an important preview of the Tri-Valley Conference Championships, set to take place right there at McIver Park on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

According to Molalla cross country coach Kenny Schoenfeld, the Estacada Invitational was a highlight of the season so far.

"It was just an amazing day," Schoenfeld said. "I had runners high and I didn't even run. I was all over the place, I was yelling, my voice is still messed up. It was such a good meet, and I felt like so many things clicked. We had some girls shaving minutes off of PR time. It was a good time."

The girls team was led by freshman wunderkind Anika Jenson, who took first place with a time of 19 minutes, 16.9 seconds (19:16.9) and was the fastest runner by 31 seconds. Following Jenson was her twin sister Annalyse with a time of 21:27.9 in 11th place. The rest of the girls team saw personal best finishes from freshman Violet Bickford (23:21.6, 26th), freshman Madison Clark (24:17.3, 30th), sophomore Katya Coleman (25:27.0, 38th), and sophomore Sophia Olson (25:40.8, 39th).

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Molalla freshman Annalyse Jenson finished her first race in 11th place with a time of 21:27.9 at the Estacada Invitational. That mark gives her the fifth best time in the Tri-Valley Conference.

The boys team was led by freshman Otto Terry (18:12.0) and junior Colten Strohmeyer (18:13.4) who placed 10th and 11th respectively. After that, junior OSten Terry took 26th (19:07.3), senior Carson McEachran took 55th (20:46.4), sophomore Jackson Blomquist in 65th (21:45.7), sophomore Dutch Patterson in 66th (21:53.1), and sophomore Levi Wood in 71st (22:10.5).

Part of the reason that Schoenfeld enjoyed watching his team race as fast as they did was the variety of competition it was against. Schools from 1A Country Christian and Veritas all the way up to 6A Oregon City and Reynolds were racing against Molalla.

"It's fun going against the bigger schools," Schoenfeld said. "That's what makes running at the 4A level tough, even if you do field a team, you have seven varsity runners, maybe that means you only have one or two JV kids, whereas these 6A schools have 30 JV kids chomping at the bit, looking to take a varsity spot. So, yeah I love that team and family culture, but I think the internal competition is good too. That's where those 6A schools shine, so to go out and beat up on some of them, we have limited numbers and we're giving them a run for their money. It was fun to watch."

Another interesting wrinkle in this year's Estacada Invitational was the participation of The Dalles and Gladstone, Tri-Valley Conference competition that Molalla will face at districts. The Dalles had three of the top four finishes on Oct. 12, with senior Juan Diego Contreras, junior Leo Lemann, and sophomore Egan Ziegenhagen besting everyone except Oregon City's Adam White.

Those three runners from The Dalles are the top runners in the Tri-Valley Conference, and Diego Contreras and Lemann are the top three in the state at 4A. The conference is stronger than ever this year with the inclusion of The Dalles, as well as Crook County moving back down to 4A.

Schoenfeld knows they bring a layer of challenge that was not there last year.

"The Dalles is ridiculously good," Schoenfeld said. "I can't remember the kid's name, Juan I think, he's No. 2 in the state and their No. 2 kid is right behind him, maybe third in the state. It's a ridiculous program, obviously amazing coaching.

"Crook County, obviously we know from experience, they're a great team," Schoenfeld said. "The big thing they bring is numbers. If they're down a guy, it's next man up and that's another amazing runner coming up from JV. It makes for really tough competition."

Ahead of the district championship, Schoenfeld wants to see his four and five runners inch closer and closer to his one, two and three runners in order to land the title.

"I want to shorten that gap, I want to bring our fifth closer to our first, have less people in between there," Schoenfeld said. "It's worked for us in the past, and I think last year it's the only reason we won our district title on the guys side. We need our sixth and seventh runners to chase their No. 5 runners. Everybody you pass, that's a two-point swap. If you're in your head counting every jersey, it's a two-point swap."

There's only one more chance to improve before the Tri-Valley Conference Championships for Molalla; the team is headed up to Scappoose High School for the DAM Worth It Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 15.

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