TALENT — Crater senior Andy Monroe was finally put to the test in this, his senior cross country season.
He passed in impressive fashion.
Monroe, a four-time state champion in cross country and track, has gradually recovered from an injury suffered in the state track meet last May.
On Wednesday, he showed his recuperation is coming along nicely by capturing the Midwestern League crown for a second straight year and sparking a triumphant day for the Comets.
In addition to Monroe’s win in a much-anticipated duel with several of the state’s top runners — including Ashland sophomore EJ Holland — Crater senior Ariana Marks defended her championship in the girls race, and both Crater teams garnered team titles.
It was the fourth straight conference win for the boys and the third straight for the girls over the 5,000-meter layout at Hagler-James Park.
“Finally, something felt good,” Monroe said after pulling away over the last 800 meters to win in 15 minutes, 24.92 seconds.
In his first two races of the fall after a partial tear of the plantar fascia ligament in his right foot, Monroe thought his legs had forgotten “how to run very well.”
He got “dropped hard,” he said, and was unable to respond when others took off.
“This was the first complete challenge,” said Monroe, “where I was actually trying to bring home the ‘W.’ It was a really good mark on the road to state, regionals and nationals.”
Holland was with him for the first 2½ of the 3.1 miles, leading early and occasionally surging to the front as the two separated from an initial six-person pack.
Holland was second in 15:41.11, and Marist’s Jerik Embleton — who has the state’s top time — took third in 15:54.77.
Crater’s Jantz Tostenson and Derek Tripp rounded out the top five.
The Comets scored 35 points to runner-up Ashland’s 45. Marist was third with 55.
The top three teams, and individuals in the top seven not on those teams, advance to the state meet Nov. 4 at Lane Community College in Eugene.
Similar to Monroe, Marks was challenged most of the race before accelerating to victory in 19:53.60, ahead of Springfield’s Emelia Sherman (20:00.86) and teammate Mariah Kinney (20:04.97).
Ashland’s Cassidy Caprari was fifth, helping the Grizzlies to second place and a state berth.
Crater scored 31 points, Ashland 64 and third-place Churchill 91.
Neither Monroe nor Holland, or their teams, for that matter, seemed in danger of not qualifying for state, the primary goal in this meet.
And the duo have big regional and, possibly, national meets beyond that.
“The tensions weren’t as high as they would be at state,” said Monroe, “but whenever there’s a runner next to you, you can’t be like, ‘Oh, he’s going to drop eventually.’ You always have to have respect for the runner and respect that they’re actually talented and they’re going to hang with you.”
That’s what Holland did, even on a day when he didn’t have his ‘A’ game.
“I felt fine, really,” he said, “but something was off today. Coming into it, I just did not feel like I was up and ready to run that hard.”
It was most noticeable when he tried to either push ahead of, or, ultimately, stay up with Monroe and couldn’t muster a burst.
Holland had mixed feelings about losing to Monroe Wednesday.
The former was in the 3,000 race at state track when a victorious Monroe went down in a heap after crossing the finish line.
“I felt really bad for him,” said the Grizzly standout. “If that would have happened to me, I’d be devastated. He worked so hard, and he did not deserve that at all. Part of me is happy for him to get that league title again because he really deserves it. He’s a senior, I’m just a sophomore. It’s his last chance.”
That Holland placed second on a day he wasn’t sharp was encouraging, particularly in such a tough field.
Crater, Ashland and Marist have a half dozen of the top runners in the state, if not more.
“It’s nice to see these guys come together and race for the first time,” said Crater coach Justin Loftus. “It’ll be just like this next week, if not better. You saw a preview of the state meet right here.”
Loftus praised Monroe and Marks for using experience to their advantage.
Marks overcame a chest cold that plagued her the previous two weeks.
It didn’t keep her from getting to the lead pack and staying there.
“I was feeling pretty tired,” she said. “I just had to push through it.”
The Comets competed on the course earlier in the season. Despite relatively flat terrain, the changes from one surface to another — bark to trail to grass — proved a challenge, said Marks, and made it “hard to get a rhythm when running.”
She pulled away inside the last half mile.
“I think toward the end,” said Marks, “I was feeling more confident. We were pretty tight most of the race, but that was OK because I wanted to hang off them and make sure I didn’t exert too much energy.”
TEAM SCORES: Crater 35, Ashland 45, Marist 55, Churchill 117, Springfield 127, Thurston 174.
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 25): 1, Andy Monroe, Cra, 15:24.92; 2, EJ Holland, Ash, 15:41.11; 3, Jerik Embleton, Mar, 15:54.77; 4, Jantz Tostenson, Cra, 16:02.77; 5, Derek Tripp, Cra, 16:04.32; 6, Peter Lechman, Chu, 16:05.74; 7, Alex Franklin, Ash, 16:13.09; 8, Arlo Davis, Ash, 16:30.87; 9, Joey Peterson, Mar, 16:38.75; 10, Reed Pryor, Ash, 16:55.15.
11, Gabe Garboden, Mar, 16:59.17; 12, Erik Olsen, Cra, 17:03.05; 13, Ryland McCullough, Cra, 17:04.24; 14, Gage Reed, Cra, 17:04.94; 15, Evan Villano, Mar, 17:25.22; 16, Gabe Southmayd, 17:32.27; 17, Tyler Stormo, Mar, 17:45.20; 18, Henry Cobb, Ash, 17:48.70; 19, Henry Williams, Ash, 18:01.89; 20, Kyle Phillps, Chu, 18:05.55; 21, Nicholas Clark, Mar, 18:19.00; 22, Ethan Hass, Spr, 18:19.24; 23, Kilano Loyd, Spr, 18:26.81; 24, Wiley Watts, 18:27.77; 25, Logan Auxier, Spr, 18:30.29.
TEAM SCORES: Crater 31, Ashland 64, Churchill 91, Marist 107, Springfield 110, Thurston 151.
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS (Top 25): 1, Ariana Marks, Cra, 19:53.60; 2, Emelia Sherman, Spr, 20:00.86; 3, Mariah Kinney, Ash, 20:04.97; 4, Abby Raven, Thu, 20:10.35; 5, Cassidy Caprari, Ash, 20:18.96; 6, Isabella Zachem, Mar, 20:21.66; 7, Taryn Dance, Cra, 20:31.92; 8, Sage Reddish, Ash, 20:39.02; 9, Gracen Hokanson, Cra, 20:43.46; 10, Nicki Yorges, Chu, 20:49.37.
11, Presley Robison, Cra, 20:54.32; 12, Natalie Elstone, Chu, 21:03.43; 13, Melina Villegas, Spr, 21:03.85; 14, Lucy Tsai, Mar, 21:04.57; 15, Kylie Caldwell, Cra, 21:04.81; 16, Maddie Armstrong, Ash, 21:11.25; 17, Hazel Richards, Ash, 21:12.11; 18, Alexa Hague, Ash, 21:17.59; 19, Milan Hague, Ash, 21:20.20; 20, McKenzie Moore, Ash, 21:21.50; 21, Jade Hopkins, Cra, 21:50.53; 22, Erica Phillips, Chu, 21:55.83; 23, Kira Stone, Chu, 21:57.33; 24, Violet Powell, Chu, 22:03.38; 25, Savanna Kyser, Chu, 22:04.42.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com