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Scappoose, St. Helens' toughest Cowapa League competition is from Astoria.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - St. Helens' Ben Zuschlag and Carson Jackson lead the 3k race between Scappoose and St. Helens on Aug. 25.Scappoose and St. Helens are preparing for the Cowapa League cross country district meet, their first since returning to the 4A league.

The teams will compete with Astoria, Tillamook and Seaside at McCormick Park on Thursday, Oct. 27.

This season, Scappoose's strength is in "our depth and keeping our pack close together," coach Kevin Pinkstaff said.

St. Helens boys have been in close competition with Scappoose, St. Helens coach Naomi Reedy said.

Astoria has been the strongest team in the league, but the Fishermen have not had much direct competition with Scappoose or St. Helens this season. The Valiant Invitational would have included those three teams, but it was canceled last week due to poor air quality.

"Astoria, right now, has some of the fastest times in the league and is probably in the lead for first place … but anything can happen," Reedy said.

Both coaches expect Astoria to take the No. 1 spot, leaving Scappoose and St. Helens to fight for the second-place finish on the boys side.

St. Helens only has four girls this season, which isn't enough to earn a team score. But the team has eight boys, which is enough for a team score.

To qualify for state, the team would have to finish in the top two in the district or have individual runners qualify solo with the top times in the district.

Scappoose isn't likely to have any individual qualifiers, Pinkstaff said, "but we can keep our pack closer together than most teams."

For St. Helens, sophomore Ben Zuschlag has been the team's top performer and could qualify for state with or without the team.

Most recently, Zuschlag took first in an Oct. 12 meet against Scappoose and Seaside and an Oct. 15 meet with Scappoose, Tillamook, Seaside and a handful of non-Cowapa League teams.

St. Helens junior Carson Jackson is another one of the team's strongest runners, Reedy said.

In Scappoose, Taiki Ogawa, Talbot Friesen and Charlie Leader are evenly matched for the top runner on the boys side.

Among the girls, sophomore Aimie Beutler has recently sped to the top spot on the team.

"Aimie has worked a ton on her mindset since last year and it's paying off," Pinkstaff said.

Beutler and freshman Amalie Anderson "will be leading our squad, and we want the rest of our top five to be latched on to them as close as we can with minimal gaps," the Scappoose coach added.

The fastest girls from Astoria, Tillamook and Seaside are quicker than Scappoose's fastest girls, "but it's a far wider gap back to their number-five runner, so our strength is in our depth there too," Pinkstaff said.

The district meet will take place at McCormick Park, which Reedy says is a somewhat difficult course. While it doesn't have significant elevation gain like some of the challenging courses, it is a winding path.

"That means you're changing up your pace a lot and your visibility of your competition might not be as great," Reedy said.

"If we're going to have good results at district and have ambitions of making it to state," Pinkstaff said, "it's going to be because we have a group of five scoring runners plus two supporting runners after that that can all show up and have a good day and stay clumped up."

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