From where The Dalles Cross Country program was four years ago, there wasn’t an expectation of running under 16 minutes, trying to break school records or to be one of the best runners or teams in the state — It was just, ‘let’s just try to do good at districts.’
With the success of the girls’ program and the promise shown by the boys, the mindset is much different.
These athletes are not running for participation trophies, but rather some blue hardware.
It is all business, all the time.
“Now, we have the mentality and the expectations to make it to the state meet and to be one of the best teams in the state, to try to win state, and to have some of the best runners in the state,” said senior Samuel Alvarez. “Our culture has changed from other teams looking at us like, ‘Oh, that’s just The Dalles, they aren’t a threat to us,’ to now when we show up, they are like, ‘wow, that is The Dalles team and we better bring out ‘A’ game because we know they are going to bring their ‘A’ game.’ That’s just the mental change in all of us now. We all realize that we can be a team that people are scared of.”
Last season, Emma Mullins, Hanna Ziegenhagen, Tressa Wood and Liz Tapia all turned in top-13 finishes to help the girls team earn a state berth, and Alvarez was a district runner-up for the boys’ lone state qualifier.
Only Ziegenhagen and Wood are back on the varsity roster, and Emily Johnson, Caitie Wring, Aurelia Hill and Jenna Miller have joined them as the top-6 runners.
Of the 49 TD harriers, there are a lot of new faces in the program. Ziegenhagen sees a ton of potential from the group thus far and is feeling good about the girls’ chances of reclaiming a district crown.
“I think everyone here is working as hard as they can, and they have a partner here to run with and try to get better. Everyone here has a partner that will help them get better as a runner. You see it every time they are here at practice,” Ziegenhagen said. “I think we are all striving to make those accomplishments again. Our goal is to go to state, and I think that it is very possible for us to do that, especially if we keep working hard.”
Through two races, head coach Bob Thouvenel and his assistants, Mandi Williams, Ashley Mayfield-Sandoz and Robert Clark, have seen the junior varsity and varsity teams each turn in 24 personal records in Tualatin and six top-10 finishes at the Oregon City XC Invitational last weekend.
Zoe Orion pushed her way to an individual junior varsity title in last weekend’s race, Fiona Dunlop, Aranza Aviluz and Breanna Bare wound up inside the top-15 amongst a field of 58, and Bri Webber, Lindy Taylor, Shea McAllister, Ashley Quisenberry and Keisha Oregon turned in solid marks to give the young squad first-place honors at Oregon City.
“This year, we have a different group of girls then what we had last year. We don’t have any one girl that is outstanding, but we have about seven or eight girls that are all close to each other in their abilities and talent, so I think they will probably be even throughout the year,” Thouvenel said. “The time between our top two girls all the way through our seventh runner probably won’t be that far apart. We will be a lot closer time-wise.”
It’s already known that Alvarez and Friedrich Stelzer, of Dufur, are the top Riverhawk varsity runners, but freshman Juan Diego Contreras, Nick Caracciolo, senior Noah Holloran, Spencer Coburn (junior) and Conor Blair (sophomore) were in the upper half of the final standings at Oregon City, and nearly all of them came close to or reset their personal records.
The junior varsity weapons are no slouches and have the skillsets needed to push the varsity runners.
No varsity job is set in stone, so every practice is a competition.
That’s where Evan Despain (senior), Austin Agidius (sophomore), Tate Hattenhauer (freshman), and the junior quartet of Ivan Rodriguez, Gavin Cates, John Cole and Tyler Leigh come into play for Thouvenel and staff.
“I look for our boys team to do well this year,” Thouvenel added. “We need to make sure that when we get to the district meet, on our own course, that we are focused and ready to go. Last year, we missed state by one point. It was pretty disappointing, not just for the coaches, but for our varsity boys. They took it very personally and I know it took three or four months before they recovered from it mentally.”
The Riverhawks don’t run any type of league schedule, so of their nine meets, the only time they will see four of the other five teams will be in this weekend’s Bridgette Nelson Invitational.
Otherwise, TD won’t see any of the other Intermountain Conference teams until districts on Oct. 31 at Sorosis Park.
“The top three teams, boys and girls, Hood River, Crook County and us are going to be very good contenders,” Thouvenel said. “Hood River Valley is the defending state champions and they got the girls to do it again, so the No. 2 spot is open between us and Crook County. On the boys side, Hood River looks strong, we are strong, and right now, Crook County is kind of unknown. They won the district title and were second in state. They lost a couple of guys, but their top guy has not run so far this year in their first two meets, so I am not sure what to expect from them.”
On one side, Alvarez was proud to punch his individual state ticket.
As a team-first runner, however, he wants the entire varsity squad to take that bus ride to state. He knows it won’t be an easy task, but they are as determined as ever to see if all the summer miles and offseason work can pay dividends.
The heartbreak of missing out on state by one point was too much to bear.
“I have been telling those guys since last year what happened and to use that as motivation this year,” Alvarez said. “Before our first meet this year, me and the rest of the captains had a meeting between our boys where we talked about what we wanted to do, how special our team can be and our expectations when we get to that stage of districts, and hopefully, state. From the day-to-day, in our practices, we just push each other so hard. If it’s a workout, a morning run or a Saturday or Sunday run or an easy run, we just tell each other what we need to do to put ourselves in the position to be our best selves for the races to come or anything else.”
This Saturday’s invitational race is scheduled for 10 a.m.
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