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The Timberwolves are looking for strong results in the 2019 cross country season

PMG FILE PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Andrew Payton, a senior on this year's Tualatin boys cross country team, is the defending Three Rivers League district meet champion.TUALATIN — Hard work, dedication, character, talent.

The Tualatin High School boys cross country team sure seems to have a lot going for it heading into the 2019 season.

The Timberwolves have yet another thing on their side — enthusiasm.

"I am very excited for the upcoming season because it presents me with the opportunity to work with an extremely high character group of young people who take pride in their efforts and results," Tualatin coach Andrew Bonica said. "Their dedication to their team and themselves is inspiring as we have routinely had 30 athletes showing up all summer to train together. They are a hungry group who is looking to build on the hard work put in and lessons that they have learned over the past year. Their positivity and dedication is contagious and has helped our program grow into one that is respected around the state for their efforts both on and off the race course."

Tualatin has some key returnees from last year's squad that finished in third place in the team standings at the Three Rivers League district championships, and 14th at the Class 6A state meet. Among those returnees is senior Andrew Payton, who raced to victory at last year's Three Rivers League district meet, using a strong finishing kick to pull away from West Linn's Kenny McElroy, and win the 5,000-meter race in a time of 15 minutes, 56.28 seconds. Payton then went on to place 13th at the state meet. He's not alone when it comes to key veterans for the Wolves.

PMG FILE PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Eric Klein, now a Tualatin senior, helped the Wolves reach the state cross country meet last year, and followed that up with a strong track season."Our team will be led on the course by seniors Andrew Payton, Ethan Klein, and Sam Smith," Bonica said. "Payton and Klein are both coming off of impressive junior track seasons that saw them establish themselves among the elite racers in the state. Payton in particular is the defending individual TRL cross country champion, and is looking to be at the top of the state podium in October."

Klein finished 13th at last year's district meet.

Besides the three seniors, Tualatin has other key returnees from last year's squad.

"Sophomore Sam Roach also stepped up in important ways for us last season and has set himself to play an even bigger role on our team this season," Bonica said. "Senior Andrew McDade as well as junior Aidan Putnam both return to our team with valuable varsity racing experience as well."

Roach was 23rd at last year's district event.

Tualatin is also adding some promising newcomers to the roster.

"We have a group of athletes who have worked hard over the past year to grow as runners and competitors," Bonica said. "Sophomores Caleb Lakeman, Cole Noretto, and Dean Horton as well as junior Jadon Allen have all put themselves in positions to be difference makers for our team. It is exciting to have the type of depth that these varsity newcomers will bring to our squad."

It all appears to add up to what could be a very successful season for the Wolves.

Our group of seniors, including Payton, Klein, Smith, and McDade, were all leaders and key contributors to our (boys) track team's state championship last spring," Bonica said. "That impressive success has shifted their mentality and expectations of themselves and their team. Their leadership will fuel their desire and confidence to again establish our team as one of the top in the state. Also, athletes like Juniors Geoffrey Mahmud and Max Mitchell are hard workers and role models to their new teammates."

PMG FILE PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Sam Smith should provide some strong senior leadership for the talented Tualatin High School boys cross country team this fall.But, Tualatin knows, success won't come easy in the powerful Three Rivers League.

"The Three Rivers League is always deep with well coached and competitive programs across the board," Bonica said. "While the defending TRL champion West Linn graduated much of their varsity team, they are always dangerous. Lakeridge has impressive depth and features a group of strong seniors. Canby and Oregon City also ran great at the TRL championship race last season and pushed us to our limit as a team. I also suspect that Tigard could be sleepers this upcoming year. This league will challenge us every race but we are confident that our work over the past year has set us up for a successful season both within our league and the state."

And, while Tualatin certainly may enjoy high levels of success in the upcoming season, that's not all that the Wolves are about.

"Above all else, our coaching staff takes pride in the culture that these athletes have helped build over their time in our program," Bonica said. "This is a group that has high expectations of themselves on the course but even higher expectations off of it. They take pride in supporting one another, welcoming and teaching new comers, and being ambassadors in the Tualatin community. I could not ask to work with a better group of young people. Regardless of our final standings in the league or state, I walk away from each season knowing that it was special and worthwhile because it was spent with an inspiring and special group of young people."

Tualatin will open it season on Friday, when it runs at the Night Meet, being held at Wilsonville High School. On Sept. 7, the Wolves will host the 15th-annual Tualatin Invitational.

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