Newberg brothers run toward goal together
Since taking up cross country seven years ago, Anthony and Zach Giesch can count on one hand the number of races they've missed.
"We've never skipped a race," Anthony says. "We've always tried to race every race."
The Newberg High School seniors began running in sixth grade after their mother persuaded them to participate in a fall sport to complement their spring lacrosse season. In no time, cross country took over as the primary focus for the twin brothers.
"We quickly fell in love with it," Zach says.
The pair have been a familiar sight in blue and gold jerseys the past four years at NHS, both in the fall and during track and field season in the spring. Thus, their absence due to illness at a league race at Glencoe on Sept. 28 was conspicuous to coaches and competitors who have come to rely on their familiar presence each event.
"This was the first time we've skipped a race since sixth grade year," Anthony says.
And yet even without two of the top runners in the state, Newberg had no problem besting the host Crimson Tide and visiting Century Jaguars. It was a strong reminder of the depth the Tigers boast this season, something the brothers hope will pay dividends at the end of the season.
"I'd say this year, it's a big possibility that this is the fastest team that Newberg has ever seen," Zach says.
"It's the depth," Anthony says. "(And) that extends down to our JV level. This year they're all really close to each other. Varsity does change weekly for them, which is exciting. It pushes them to be better."
Passing the torch
Looking back at their freshman year at Newberg, the Giesch brothers point to the leaders on the 2019 team who were influential in shaping their approach to cross country.
"They had the benefit and the luxury of having some really good leaders," coach Keith Marshall says.
Juniors Asher Tatsumi, Jonathan Rolfe and William Stewart helped show the Giesches how to approach the sport at the high school level and what sort of expectations they needed to have to compete at the highest level.
"They all taught Anthony and I, 'this is what you do at a meet,'" Zach says. "Even outside of racing, how to carry yourself. Just being humble and working hard during the practice. If it wasn't for Asher, Johnny and Will, I don't think Anthony and I would be where we are now."
Two years after that group's graduation, Anthony and Zach still are close friends with their former teammates and hope to instill the same lessons in this year's class of freshmen.
"That's why it's so important to me," Zach says. "To have that and try to be that for these boys. To give them what I had."
That 2019 team went on to finish 12th at the 6A state championships at Lane Community College. Zach placed 78th individually, followed closely by Anthony in 81st. All five members of the team finished with times under 17 minutes, giving the boys team its best team placement in a decade.
Three months later, the COVID pandemic changed the landscape of high school athletics and the pair didn't suit up for Newberg again until the shortened 2020 season that took place in the spring of 2021.
While there were no state championships that season, the Tigers did complete a season-ending Pacific Conference championship of sorts. Newberg took first place in the team standings behind top 10 finishes from all five scoring members, including a three-four-five finish from Zach, Anthony and Tatsumi.
The victory broke the streak of conference titles for league power Sherwood, although the Bowmen were not at full strength for the end of the season.
"Sherwood didn't run all their top guys at the district meet," Marshall says. "They would have given Sherwood a run, but probably wouldn't have beaten them."
The Bowmen took back the league title in fall 2021, led by eventual 6A state champion James Crabtree, but the Tigers returned to the state meet as well. Zach placed 29th with a time of 16:06.60 and Anthony was 35th in 16:18.50 to pace Newberg to a 15th-place finish.
Partners on the course
Cross country is a unique sport. Runners are simultaneously racing for their individual time and placement, but also competing as a group. It's a hybrid of solo and team competition.
In a strange way, the sport is built for the Giesch brothers.
"They actually complement each other very well," Marshall says. "Anthony is much more confident about pacing and how to approach the tactical way he approaches races. Zach is just uber competitive. They do a great job of balancing each other out."
As a tandem, the brothers push each other to new heights better than they could as individuals.
"I know I won't find a better racing partner and training partner than my own twin," Anthony says. "There's no one else in the world who is as good as my brother and knows me better than my twin."
For the first two years of their high school career, the pair were much more competitive with each other, each seeking to out-perform the other and prove who was the best. As they've grown, they've put aside that aspect of competition to work together as a team, as a single unit.
"Now, if he does really well, and I don't, I feel like I've done just as well," Zach says.
"Anthony has a saying: When I'm feeling weak, Anthony will be strong for me. When he's feeling weak, I'll try to pull him along and be the stronger one. We try to work together."
With the graduation of Sherwood's strong senior class, the Giesch brothers are looking to return the league title to Newberg.
"This year we want to take it for real," Anthony says. "No one can stop us and I think we're going to do it. I want to win districts, which is something I haven't been able to say before."
Anthony and Zach have the two best times in the league at 15:26.0 and 15:29.6, respectively. The next closest competitors are Kyle Spencer of McMinnville (15:49.70) and Jacob Friesen of Forest Grove (15:54.20).
And while Anthony and Zach appear to have the inside track toward finishing first and second in some order, they admit that when everyone is running in a pack at the front of a race, it's a different beast.
"There's definitely a difference between racing for time versus racing for place," Anthony says. "You're not racing the clock or yourself."
But if anyone is going to challenge them for the league title, the Giesch brothers are going to make them earn it.
"Zach and I are prepared to make those boys hurt," Anthony says. "They better want it."
Barring catastrophe, Zach and Anthony will return to Lane Community College in November to compete in the state championships for a third and final time.
"I love the state course," Anthony says. "It's awesome. That's where I ran my freshman year PR; granted it was amazing weather and it wasn't super muddy."
Newberg High School has sent nine teams to the boys state championship race in the past 30 years. In that span, the Tigers' best placement has been a pair of seventh-place finishes in 2001 and 2007. Zach and Anthony are hoping to match that.
"Zach and I have some lofty goals and we want to place top 10 this year," Anthony says. "Maybe it's too lofty and naïve to say that, but I think it's attainable."
"I think before that, my big goal, is running under 15 minutes," Zach says. "Then top 10 at state (individually), and I'm hoping that pushes the boys to run harder and I'm hoping to place eighth (as a team)."
Following graduation, the brothers are looking to continue their education, preferably in a place where they can still run. But that's secondary to their career plans.
"For me, I want to go to a school that's somewhere in the Pacific Northwest," Zach says. "I don't want to go super far away from home."
Zach wants to find a university where he can study horticulture and continue enjoying the outdoors, where he likes to go fishing and rafting.
"I grew up fishing with my dad and my grandpa," he says. "It's something that I've grown up with my entire life."
Anthony is seeking a career in teaching, specializing in French linguistics.
"I've fallen in love with French," Anthony says. "I would love to be a high school French teacher. I love it, I love the stupid things about the language, the things about the culture."
Whether they can find a school that has both majors while giving them an opportunity to run cross country remains to be seen.
"I really want Anthony and I to go to the same school," Zach says. "As much as he ticks me off (sometimes), I really enjoy having him around. I really hope we go to the same school, but it's whatever happens."
"I think we're leaning more toward going together at this point," Anthony agrees. "Zach and I will be together. We will always have each other. We will always be stronger than any two teammates. Zach is my other half. That's a strength that we have."
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