EUGENE — Gray skies loomed over Lane Community College throughout the morning on a chilly Saturday. But the sun emerged early in the afternoon to bless the end of a 41-year drought.

“It’s shining down on us,” laughed Crook County coach Tracy Smith. “Oh, my gosh. What a great feeling. I haven’t had a feeling like this since running in my younger days. I had a pretty good feeling with individual titles every now and then, but whoa. This is amazing.”

Despite the Cowboys not placing a single runner in the top 10 of the Class 4A boys cross-country state championships, all seven Crook County runners finished 34th or better. And with 80 points, the Cowboys defeated runner-up Stayton by 16 points to claim the program’s second state title — and its first since 1976.

“Since I’ve been coaching here, we’ve never gotten a trophy as a team,” said Smith, now in his 20th season with Crook County. “For me, personally, to get any kind of a trophy is a big deal, let alone first.

“They ran with heart.”

Freshman Alec Carne led a young Cowboys team by taking 14th overall in 17 minutes, 11 seconds, and sophomore Cade Catterson was close behind in 17th. Juniors Noah Chaney and Miles Chaney placed 22nd and 24th for Crook County, whose assistant coach, Chuck Coats, was the top finisher for the 1976 title-winning Cowboys.

“It’s amazing to know that our team is the best TEAM for 4A,” said Carne. “It’s the greatest feeling you can have at a cross-country meet.”

In the 5,000-meter race, Sisters’ Jordan Pollard placed second in 16:34, 11 seconds behind winner John Kavulich of Scappoose. Pollard improved 20 spots from his finish at last year’s state meet despite running with a bruised left heel that resulted in the Outlaws senior cutting out the back of his shoe to prevent irritation.

“It came down to the final 1,200 meters,” said Pollard, who had injured his heel on a class trip to the nearby mountains. “I was getting closer and I thought I’d inch closer. I got to the track (with 300 meters left), and I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe if I go faster I could catch him.’ I didn’t care that he was 100 meters ahead. But he kept going. He raced hard.”

Paced by Pollard and 25th-place Ethan Hosang, the Outlaws took sixth as a team with 149 points.

Madras’ Tyler Anderson placed sixth in 16:49. He took eighth at last season’s state meet, just out of qualification for the Nike BorderClash, an annual race featuring the top runners from Oregon and Washington. This season, Anderson looked down at the qualification he had just earned for the Nov. 18 BorderClash in Beaverton, coveting it like a state championship.

“It’s crazy,” said Anderson, still soaking in the moment. “This is something that I almost never thought I’d get to or make it to. This is all I could ask for.”

In the 4A girls race, a hypothetical state meet calculated by the website athletic.net predicted Crook County to win its first state title since 1978. Cowgirls sophomore Jan Carne conceded that Crook County was under ample pressure. The squad met Friday night and attempted to spin the pressure into excitement to hype up the runners for the big stage. Still, Carne, who headed into the race with the second-fastest time in 4A this season, said the pressure of high expectations may have affected the Cowgirls.

After working her way from the back of the pack at the start to the lead group by the second mile, Carne said she “just hit a wall” and began to fall back. With 100 meters to go, Carne, who had led briefly earlier in the race, was hanging onto third place, but she was passed by Marshfield’s Jazmin Chavez.

Carne settled for fourth individually in 19 minutes, 33 seconds, and Crook County totaled 219 points to place ninth as a team. Tillamook, paced by individual winner Solace Bergeron in 18:44, repeated as state champion with 37 points.

“It was a big relief” to finally cross the finish line, Carne said, “because I had been feeling a whole ton of pressure. I think we all have on our team.”

Also in the girls race, Anna Bartlett took 11th in 19:58 for Sisters, which finished fourth with 148 points. The Outlaws’ Ella Cole finished 22nd.

Although the Cowgirls did not match their championship-level expectations, Carne said she and her team coped with the pressure as well as they could and still tied for the program’s best finish at state since 1979.

To boot, the Cowgirls return most of their team from this season (their top finishers at state included Carne, freshman Maggie Ramos, who was 54th, and sophomore Alyson Thomas, who took 55th), setting up Crook County for perhaps a run at next year’s state title.

“We’re excited, because we have a few incoming runners who should be pretty fast and add some depth,” Carne said. “We only have one senior leaving, and we’ll miss her, but the team is pretty young, so we should still have a young team.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com

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