All of the hard work that Enterprise sophomore Madison Ribich has put into this cross country season paid off. She had first-place finishes in the first meet of the year at Elgin, and also won the home meet at Alpine Meadows Golf Course.
Fittingly, Ribich earned a spot at the Class 3A-2A-1A state championship meet because she finished in ninth place at the District 5 Cross Country Championships on a cool and sunny Friday afternoon at Pendleton Community Park. She was the only local runner (girls and boys) to qualify for the state meet.
"I'm already nervous," Ribich said. "There's gonna be a lot of runners, with Class 3A and 2A and 1A, so I have to concentrate a little more."
Ribich will run in the state championship at Lane Community College in Eugene on Saturday. The girls' race is scheduled for 10 a.m.
Ribich overcame a rough cramp that plagued her for the second half of the 5,000-meter race. The pain started as she came around on the second lap through the woods and over the McKay Creek bridge. The same trouble hit her the previous week at the pre-district meet and forced her to lose pace with competition. She ended that day ranked No. 13.
"I was telling myself, 'This is district. I have to forget about (the aches),'" Ribich said. "This time, it wasn't as bad because I wasn't letting myself focus on it."
The solution to working through the cramp was breaking down the long course into smaller goals.
"Usually, I'd think, 'I'm getting closer and closer.' Plus, it's the end of the year and we're going out to get pizza after the meet so I wasn't thinking about the side aches," Ribich said.
Likewise, the Enterprise-Joseph boys simplified their race. Elgin's Nick Whiteman had taken them by surprise the week before at the pre-district meet. He finished in fourth place, ahead of senior Matthew Hurley and junior Patrick Baird. They made Friday's meet a chance for some revenge.
"He beat us, and we were like, 'Where did he come from?'" Baird said. "He improved so much. Before that, he'd always start fast but then slow down later on. He was never a threat."
In the rematch, three local runners - Baird, Hurley and senior Fayira Touray - placed ahead of Whiteman. The hope was that outrunning him would open doors to the state meet.
Outside of the vendetta, however, the Enterprise-Joseph boys suffered disappointments. Baird jumped ahead to the front of the race early on, but he slipped back gradually.
"I might've gotten passed more than anybody," he said. "The kid from Umatilla was strides ahead of everyone. I figured I had to keep up with him. Once I passed him, I was thinking, 'I'm feeling good. Why don't I kick it up a bit more?' That was my biggest mistake."
Hurley had his best time of the season (18:41), but he said that he wished he had done better.
"It was awful," he said. "There was some improvement, but it was just a second. District is always like that for me. It's really tense."
After the meet, Enterprise-Joseph coach Dan Moody was furious with the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA). The administration grouped Class 3A, 2A and 1A schools together for cross country, starting last year. It was an insult, according to Moody. The division is unfair for smaller schools, like Enterprise (2A) and Joseph (1A).
Class 3A schools dominated the District 5 meet, bumping athletes from smaller schools out of the running for the state meet. Ribich was the only girl from Class 2A to qualify.
"OSAA dropped the ball with how they divided cross country up," Moody said. "At least they could separate the district so the smaller schools are competing against each other. There are 3A schools that are supportive and helping us with the idea of the separation."
With Friday's meet, the local cross country program bid farewell to its senior runners, including Jessy Osterloh of Enterprise and Lena Moro and Colby Patton of Joseph.
Osterloh ran her last meet after competing throughout junior high and high school. She had played soccer until the sixth grade. Her father, Ron, had run cross country in college, and when soccer leagues stopped after the sixth grade, he suggested she talk to Moody.
Six years later, Jessy finished with a season-best 27:41. "It felt good," she said. "I'd give it a 10, on a scale of 1-to-10."