Cross country: Kennedy's Lopez gears up for state title run
As good as the Kennedy High School girls cross country team has been in the 21st century, it's difficult to believe the team has not fielded a state champion.
Since the year 2000, the Trojans have been one of the premier girls running programs in the state, placing at the state meet 14 times since 2002. In that span, Kennedy has placed a runner in the individual top 20 in 14 of the past 15 seasons.
In eight of those years, Kennedy has placed a runner in the top 10, and in the past three seasons, the team has had unprecedented success in finishing two runners in the top 10. But in all that time, the Trojans have never placed an athlete on the champion's podium.
Alejandra Lopez is looking to snap that streak.
The Kennedy senior has placed in the top 10 at the 3A/2A/1A State Championships every year since breaking into the high school running stage in 2015, and with one year left before graduation, there has never been a better time to bring a distance running title to Mount Angel.
"We're expecting her to contend for a state title as an individual," head coach Steve Ritchie said. "She knows she has a great shot to win it, but it's going to be tough too. There's some excellent competition there."
The top three runners from last year's state championship race — Maya Rayle of Catlin Gabel, Sailor Hutton of Bandon and Lopez's former teammate Kaylin Cantu — all graduated in the spring, leaving a vacuum at the top of the state running standings that Lopez is looking to fill.
The Kennedy senior returns as one of the front runners in this year's small school distance scene, though she'll have plenty of competition pushing her.
The leading contender for the state title is likely Oregon Episcopal senior Stephanie Finley, who won the 2016 3A/2A/1A championship. Lopez finished 15 seconds better than Finley at last year's state championship race, but in turn was passed by Catlin Gabel sophomore Lillian Fenner.
Together, the trio will likely be at or near the top of the standings come November, but Lopez is looking to beat them all to hand Kennedy its first individual distance title since Deanna Shiedler won back-to-back titles in 1981 and 1982.
But she won't be alone. Lopez returns with runners following in her footsteps that finished fifth as a team at last year's state meet. Although the Trojans graduated four of their top seven runners from last year, sisters Cassie and Clarissa Traeger finished just outside the top 50 at the state meet and could break into it with another good season this year.
The Trojans also welcome freshman Aleksandra Eyles, who had the second-best time for the team at Friday's season-opening 3K race at Wilsonville High School, finishing in 13:53.34. Incidentally, Lopez's team-best time of 10:49.97 was better than both of Shiedler's state championship-winning times in 1981 and 1982, before the girls title races switched from 3K to 5K in 1993.
Returning runners Whitney Lopez, Mikayla Schaecher and senior Claire Seiler, along with junior newcomer Giselle Juarez round out the team.
On the boys side, the Trojans are in strong footing for a bounce-back year after failing to qualify for the state championships as a team in 2017.
Kennedy brings back all but one runner from last year's team, including its top two athletes in juniors Luke Hall and Nick Riedman. Hall was the Trojans' lone representative at the state championships last year, placing 24th overall, and has been a top-50 placer in each of his first two seasons.
Riedman has been the 1B to Hall's 1A, but a poorly-timed illness right before last year's district meet kept him from qualifying for state as well.
"We had run the previous week at Bush Park, and he was exactly a minute and a half slower at the district meet, which is about 20 places," Ritchie said. "Had he run like he had the previous week, we would have taken second."
At full health, Riedman is one of the top runners in the district and a lock to place inside the top-50 at state, giving the Trojans a solid one-two punch heading into this season.
"Nick is always really close to Luke, and occasionally beats him," Ritchie said. "Usually if he doesn't beat him, he's within 10 or 15 seconds. So I think those guys definitely, Luke is top 20, Nick is top 30 (at state)."
The rest of the team is composed of a number of quality runners. Senior Carlos Saravia has been cleared to run again after dislocating his shoulder running the long hurdles this past spring. Fellow track teammates Micah Parker and Gianni Velazquez will make their cross country debut this fall as well.
Returning runners Nick Spickelmier and Michael Savage add to the team's depth, and incoming freshman Korbin Wedding adds another strong runner to the fold this year.
All told, the Trojan boys have a team that is not just a threat to make it to state, but one that could place high at the end of the season if the team does well in the fall.
"I don't see them just squeaking in," Ritchie said. "Hopefully they'll finish in the top half at state. Optimistically I'm projecting a really good boys team this year. The girls have a few more question marks this year, but I think they can be good too."
Wilsonville Night meet
Alejandra Lopez, Sr. — 10:49.97
Aleksandra Eyles, Fr. — 13:53.34
Clarissa Traeger, Sr. — 14:03.30
Whitney Lopez, Jr. — 14:14.14
Cassie Traeger, So. — 14:14.50
Claire Seiler, Sr. — 14:21.10
Mikayla Schaecher, Jr. — 15:26.00
Giselle Juarez, Jr. — 16:11.70
Luke Hall, Jr. — 10:30.89
Nick Riedman, Jr. — 10:49.53
Nick Spickelmier, Sr. — 11:28.21
Korbin Wedding, Fr. — 11:34.59
Michael Savage, So. — 11:56.72
Carlos Saravia, Sr. — 13:02.02