There’s running and then there’s racing, and on Wednesday afternoon at Sorosis Park in The Dalles there was a little of both. As well as some jogging. Such is to be expected early in a cross country season — on a crisp, fall-like day in March.
Hood River and The Dalles tested their mettle on the hilly course, which had an eerie, pandemic-like feeling of its own. More than 100 of the park’s signature trees were removed last year after falling victim to a pine bark beetle infestation. Some parts of the course wound through small piles of ground-up stumps instead of 100-foot pines.
That didn’t diminish the competition. The mask-clad teams split the dual; the visiting Eagle girls won their 5000-meter race, 19-36, and The Dalles boys won, 26-31. The boys result deserves an asterisk, however, because the team score does not reflect the fact that HRV sophomore Elliot Hawley crossed the finish line first but was later disqualified for cutting a corner with about 550 meters left. Instead, fellow sophomore, Juan Diego Contreras, the 2019 district runner-up from The Dalles, was awarded first place.
Hawley and Contreras ran 1-2 the entire way, treating the smattering of spectators to a highly competitive race, countering the other’s moves with ones of their own. “Every time I would try to catch him, he would move (out again),” Contreras said. “I would pass him sometimes for just like five seconds and he would get right in front of me again. It was just back and forth.”
The DQ aside, Hawley relished the competition. “He’s done some crazy stuff last year. So, I was just trying to go out there and put myself in position. It worked out. I was just trying to stick with him, honestly,” he said of Contreras. “My coach told me, he’s (Contreras) the guy. … It’s great to be out here and run again.”
Hood River Coach Brandon Bertram said he had been anticipating the race all week, because he has noted a sense of urgency in Hawley, who finished seventh at district in 2019. “Diego is a talented runner that had a tremendous freshman year. Elliot has had 18 months of recognizing that he can be a really good runner. Combine that with Elliot’s desire put the work in and his unique competitive mentality, I had a hunch he was going to make the race interesting. It was a treat to watch competitive kids give us such an entertaining race.”
Of the disqualification, Bertram said, “I thought Elliot handled it incredibly well. Those two will be giving us plenty of races to enjoy for a couple of more years.”
Contreras dealt with a little controversy — though not as costly — of his own. “It was about right before the mile. I’ve run races with my shoes untied,” he said, as Hawley who was nearby, overheard and admitted to a similar fate. “I thought, ‘Ah gee, that sucks,” Contreras said. “I was thinking of kicking them out and running barefoot, but then I was like, but wait, this is gravel.”
Contreras kept on his shoes until the end, finishing in 16 minutes, 50 seconds over the difficult course — a couple of seconds behind Hawley. (Hawley ran the race about 13 seconds faster than he did in 2019, when he was seventh at district.) Senior Nick Caracciolo was the No. 2 runner from The Dalles, as he and freshman teammate Leo Lemann (fourth) closed the race well to break up a mini HRV pack.
“Both of them did pick off some Hood River runners over the last mile,” Riverhawks Coach Bob Thouvenel said. “(Leo) continues to impress us. He ran a great race last week at Crook County, and he ran faster on our course than he did a week ago.” The Sorosis course is considered anywhere from 45 seconds to one minute slower than most other courses.
Eagle junior Thomas Ziegler, a transfer from White Salmon, was in the middle of the 17-second gap between Caracciolo and Lemann. Had Hawley been in the scoring mix, HRV would have edged The Dalles, 27-30.
The girls race was never in doubt, teamwise and individually. Hood River senior Chloe Bullock looked mid-season fit — though she will be the first to argue that assessment — en route to an 80-second win. Bullock, who finished fifth in the 2019 Intermountain district meet the last time she ran the Sorosis course, led from start to finish on Wednesday. She had a 30-second advantage after a mile and increased the gap to almost a minute after two miles. Her winning time of 20:12 was 12 seconds faster than the time she ran in 2019 at district.
Her coach was pleased. “Chloe has had a very progressive 18-month offseason with her training,” Bertram said. “She took the opportunity to make running work for her and what she wants out of it. She showed it on Wednesday by how she raced with confidence and purpose.”
Bullock had a slightly different take. “I feel like everyone feels,” she said after the race. “Out of shape.”
She gave runner-up Hannah Ziegenhagen an air high five beyond the finish chute and they admitted the best part about the race was simply competing again. “Oh my gosh, it felt so good,” Bullock said. “My mom went by … and I was like, this is great. It’s just so nice to be back. Especially with senior year. I was just doing regular runs all through quarantine. I found myself just feeling out of shape, but I just started to be proud of myself for running every day. That’s all you can do, you know.”
Both runners said they’re using cross country as a training period before track and field season begins in April. “I think it’s going to be nice because I actually haven’t had a full year of just track yet because of injuries, or other sports, or COVID,” said Ziegenhagen, who was second in 21:35. “I think it will be nice to come in prepared and in shape. I’m glad that we’re actually having the chance to compete because without (meets) it just wouldn’t be the same.”
Bullock agreed. “I’m trying to, right now, just build up my endurance,” she said. “So, when I get to track season, I can start picking up on my speed to do the 800. That’s kind of my goal.”
Hood River bunched the next four finishers after Ziegenhagen. “My teammates are awesome, and they’ve been working so hard,” Bullock said. “Wearing masks every practice; it’s all so hard. Anyone out here I am so impressed with.”
Mieka McKnight, Phoebe Wood, Lucy Hennessy and Sophie Kaden finished within 25 seconds of each other in third-through-sixth place. That pack mentality brought a smile to Bertram’s face. “They defined what a cross country team effort is. (They) collectively each led the pack through portions of the challenging course. When the leader was struggling another girl would take over to pull the group. If someone was falling off the pack, the group encouraged them to regroup. It was enlightening to see how they were running for each other.”