Cross country: Kennedy's Lopez wins 3A/2A/1A State Championship
Kennedy's Alejandra Lopez entered her senior year having never won a race in her high school cross country career. She finished the fall season as a state champion.
Lopez concluded her cross country campaign with the Trojans by winning the 2018 3A/2A/1A State Championship race on Saturday in Eugene, bringing an individual state title home to Mount Angel for the first time since the 1982 season.
"Winning state was her goal all season," Kennedy head coach Steve Ritchie said. "She worked very hard during the summer to get to the point where she was a legitimate contender and she's just very strong."
Lopez finished the race in 19:02, beating out fellow rivals McKenzie Hoyt of Burns, (2nd, 19:10), Lila Fenner of Catlin Gabel (3rd, 19:24) and 2016 state champion Stephanie Finley of Oregon Episcopal (4th, 19:32).
It was Lopez's strongest finish in four years of competing at the state championship course at Lane Community College. The Kennedy senior has been one of the state's best runners at the 2A level since her freshman year, placing in the top 10 at the state meet in four consecutive seasons.
But due to the success of former teammate and four-time district champion Kaylin Cantu, Lopez was never able to cross the finish line first overall in her first three years with the cross country program. That all changed this year.
"She finally got that feeling of what it's like to win," Ritchie said. "Last year I think Kaylin won like six races during the course of the season."
Lopez won her first race at the Stayton Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 19, beginning a streak of seven consecutive races in which she finished first place, culminating in her historic state championship win on Saturday.
Unlike most of her previous wins, in which she finished with a wide berth between her and the runner up, Lopez was acutely aware she'd have her hands full against a field of the state's top contenders in Eugene.
"We were discussing strategy and kind of both figured that there would be a pack at the front," Ritchie said. "Her strategy was to be with the lead, stay with the lead pack, but then not let it come down to a sprint on the track."
The final 300 meters of the state championship course finishes on the track at Lane Community College, and Ritchie said Lopez wanted to distance herself away from the field before entering the final stretch, avoiding a dead sprint to the finish line.
"She didn't have the greatest kick, but she has tremendous strength and competitive desire, so she just utilized her strength to pull ahead," Ritchie said.
Lopez, Hoyt, Fenner and Finely stayed together as a pack at the front of the field for the majority of the race before Lopez started to put some distance between her and the rest with about 1,000 meters to go. Within a span of about 600 meters, Lopez built a lead of about eight seconds between her and the rest of the runners, which she maintained throughout the last turn heading into the final portion of the race on the track.
"When she turned the corner and went onto the track, she was pretty comfortable," Ritchie said. "She just executed that race strategy perfectly and made sure it wasn't going to come down to a kick.
"This race strategy took a lot of patience and poise to wait until the right moment and do it. I think most kids it would be hard, but that's a benefit of being a senior and having that experience of four years of cross country."
Lopez became the second individual state cross country champion for Kennedy in school history, joining Deanna Schiedler, who won back-to-back A/B Class titles in 1981 and 1982. The OSAA switched the girls races from 3,000 meters to 5,000 meters in 1993, putting Lopez in a class alone in the JFK record books.
Lopez's victory helped the Kennedy girls team place seventh overall in the final standings. She was followed by teammates Aleksandra Eyles (43rd, 22:13); Cassie Traeger (44th, 22:20); Clarissa Traeger (58th, 23:29); Whitney Lopez (65th, 24:18); Mikayla Schaecher (67th, 24:26) and Claire Seiler (79th, 26:30).
The Kennedy boys team placed sixth overall at the 2018 State Championships on Saturday, marking the best team finish for the Trojans since the 2010 season.
Led by junior Luke Hall, Kennedy placed all five of its placing runners within 35 seconds of each other, giving the team one of its most balanced finishes in recent history.
"I thought the boys did very, very well at state," Ritchie said. "That's a great nucleus to have."
Hall finished in 32nd place with a time of 18:08 followed by freshman teammate Korbin Wedding, who set a new PR-time of 18:20 to finish 36th.
Another newcomer, Gianni Velazquez, placed 38th in 18:28. Junior Nick Riedman was next in 43rd at 18:41, and senior Micah Parker was close behind at 18:43 in 46th. Teammates Jose Salazar (64th, 19:17) and Michael Savage (74th, 21:01).
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