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The Tigers have internal competition on both teams as the first race draws near

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Led by longtime coach Bruce Sinkbeil, the Newberg cross-country team has been training hard for the fall.

After missing a berth in state competition by just one point last season, the Newberg boys cross-country team has redemption on its mind this fall. All of its main contributors are back, coach Bruce Sinkbeil said, and the mission for the Tigers is simple: Get to state and make their presence felt.

"The boys had a tough finish to districts last year," Sinkbeil said. "One of our kids lost his shoe in the first 200 meters and had to put it back on, and that kind of messed him up. He fell down near the end of the race and lost nine or ten places, which dropped us down to fourth as a team."

Jonathan Rolfe's nightmare district meet serves as motivation for him this season, Sinkbeil said, and as one of Newberg's top runners he will be among its leaders. Rolfe is one of three juniors expected to be in the Tigers' top five this season, joined by William Stewart and Asher Tatsumi.

Two seniors are likely top five runners for Newberg as well: Sam Mock and Christopher Aquipel. After the top five and even within it, there is plenty of competition expected among Newberg cross-country teammates this season.

"They all had good summers," Sinkbeil said. "Our strength as a varsity team is going to be our time gap from one to five. It should be within 30 seconds or less for most meets, so if we can keep improving we are going to be dangerous. Our front end will be faster with a good time gap between them."

Sherwood is the odds-on favorite to capture the Pacific Conference crown, according to Sinkbeil, so the Tigers will be in a fight to fill one of the two remaining state championship berths.

They have about 30 boys out for cross-country this season, which creates the kind of depth and range in talent that Sinkbeil said he likes.

A few freshmen may find themselves in the varsity fold as well, he said. That inspires competition from athletes at all levels of the boys' program.

"I don't think our number one kid will be the same every week," Sinkbeil said. "I think it will change from meet to meet, which should be good for healthy competition and keeping these guys working hard all season long."

League race 'wide open' for girls

The Newberg girls had two runners finish in the top 11 for individuals at last season's district meet, sending then-junior Abby Hein to state and getting a solid performance from her classmate, Kendall McKibbon.

Now, the pair are seniors hoping to make state championship appearances this season and propel the team to a berth as well.

"Both of them have been in our top five for the last few years," Sinkbeil said of McKibbon and Hein. "Kendall had a really good summer and can be one of the better runners in the league if she stays healthy. At this point, we've got a lot of girls competing for the various spots."

Sophia Redwine enters her sophomore year on the cross-country squad after capturing a state championship in wrestling, bringing her athletic ability and enthusiasm to distance running. Another young contributor is sophomore Emily Schmidt, who is nursing an injury but hopes to be back in the lineup soon.

Sinkbeil said the girls' lineup is not as set-in-stone as the boys'. There is still a lot to sort out in terms of a top five, he said, but it's clear that McKibbon and Hein are leading the pack.

Standing out in the Pacific Conference will be a challenge, Sinkbeil admitted, but the number of departures around the rest of the league makes him optimistic for the Tigers' chances.

"The league is really wide open on the girls' side," he said. "The top five runners from last year's district meet all graduated. There is no prohibitive team favorite for the girls, I think."

The Newberg boys and girls open up their schedule of meets this Saturday at the Ultimook Race in Tillamook, which draws in teams from around the state to camp out and compete on the cross-country paths. After that, Newberg hosts rival McMinnville on Sep. 11.

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