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The Vanguard put in solid finishes in McMinnville at the Flat & Fast Invitational on Friday

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Cam McChesney enjoyed a top-20 finish among all classes at the Flat & Fast Invitational in McMinnville on Friday.

Trudging along on running paths around the state, the Veritas cross-country team – led by a handful of key individual runners – is hoping to break through. The Vanguard most recently competed at the Flat & Fast Invitational in McMinnville, where the team's top athletes showcased their potential.

The majority of the boys team competed in the "black" division – a de facto junior varsity race for runners with average times above 20 minutes for a 5,000 meter race.

"We had some guys who are close to breaking 20, but I thought it was better to race them all together than to separate them like that," Veritas coach Ken McChesney said. "Everyone thinks that course is going to be super speedy and the kids did a great job running it. I think we did really well."

Sophomore Xander Aguilar had the best finish of any Veritas runner in the black division, placing third with a time of 19:27.70. Senior Nic Ereminas finished seventh in 19:51.30, and sophomore Eli Fitch placed 23rd in 20:38.70.

Veritas also ran two boys in the varsity race – seniors Cam McChesney and Will Lattus. The varsity contest pitted the pair of Vanguard runners against some top competition from the 6A classification and below, a significant test for 1A Veritas that its top competitors seemed to pass.

McChesney – the coach's son – finished 19th in 17:20.90. Lattus finished 44th in 18:32:00. Veritas coach Ken McChesney said his son had been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered at the Meriwether Cross Country Classic on Sept. 20, and this was his first race back since then.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Veritas sophomore Breanna Schmitt earned 18th place in the Fast & Flat Invitational Friday in McMinnville with a time of 21 minutes and one second.

Coach McChesney was pleased with the results.

"I was really relieved that he made it through the race without any issues," he said. "I think he did a fantastic job and is really progressing well.

"(Lattus) is also such a gifted runner and he works so hard getting ready for the season. Every race he seems like he's ready for a major breakthrough. I was encouraged by his performance, too."

Leading the girls' team is sophomore Breanna Schmitt, who placed 18th in the varsity race with a time of 21:01.00. She was a shade under one minute and 40 seconds off the time of the winning runner from Catlin Gabel.

Schmitt broke a school record at Meriwether, McChesney said, despite being stung by a bee early in the race and working through visible pain. He said he's proud of what she's achieved so far and looks forward to what she can accomplish in the coming months and even years.

Coach McChesney is also looking forward to potentially adding a new runner to the fold of the girls' squad.

"We might have a fifth girl coming out," he said. "The girls have remained in the top 30 in the district and Breanna is the runner-up on paper, so it would be great to have a fifth runner and make us a complete team."

The close-knit nature of this team is what stands out to the coach so far, and he said it brings the kids "great pride" to represent their school in the only sport offered. With a student body of little more than 50, it's "special," he said, to be able to put together a team and compete.

The team's focus in this home stretch will be ironing out the kinks and preparing itself for district and potentially state competition. The Vanguard has three challenging meets upcoming where their focus won't be running for a time, but rather a place.

"The main thing we are going to work on is how to be tough and get yourself in position for that third mile," McChesney said. "We are often strong for two miles, but we can struggle on that third mile at times, and that's another thing we need to work on. We need to race for place and not time at this point in the season."

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