By Brian Rathbone • The Bulletin

When Bend High cross-country coach Lisa Nye woke up on Saturday and saw snow on the ground, she became a little worried about the Oxford Classic coming up in less than a week.

With the weather expected to improve and snow in the rearview mirror (at least for now), there should be nothing holding the Oxford Classic back from its 28th running Friday afternoon at Bend’s Drake Park.

“It look likes it’s going to warm up and be premium distance-running weather,” Nye said Wednesday.

Premium distance-running weather for one of Oregon’s premier regular-season meets.

More than 750 runners from 27 different high schools will run the challenging 5,000-meter course that will go up and down hills, cross the footbridge over Mirror Pond and take runners through the streets of downtown Bend.

“I think that the atmosphere is unique,” Nye said. “Cross-county is evolving to be more flat courses, and to have a course that has some hills, and crossing a bridge and running in the streets, is different.”

To no surprise, nearly all of the local schools will participate in the annual race. Eleven teams — representing Summit, Bend, Mountain View, Crook County, Redmond, Ridgeview, Sisters, Madras, La Pine, Culver and Trinity Lutheran high schools — hail from Central Oregon.

“We are lucky to have Central Oregon be a community with so many strong runners, and seeing them all come together to compete is exciting,” Nye said.

As coaches and runners have observed over the years, the Oxford Classic, while competitive, is a fun race for all involved. Friday should be no different.

“I’m really excited about it,” Nye said. “It’s exciting to see the energy from the kids to compete in this race.”

The meet will begin at 1 p.m. with the girls junior varsity blue race, followed by the boys JV blue at 1:30. The girls varsity meet will start at 2 p.m., followed by the boys varsity at 2:30. The JV gold races will conclude the event, with the girls starting at 3 p.m. and the boys at 3:30.

Here are eight runners to keep an eye on during Friday’s meet:

Fiona Max, Summit

Don’t blink, because you just might miss one of the fastest high school long-distance runners in the country.

As a junior, Max won the 6A state cross-country title, beating the second-place finisher by 14 seconds to help Summit capture its 11th straight state title, its first since joining 6A. She then finished sixth at the NXR Northwest Regional Championship, helping her team once again finish first. Then, at the NXR Nike Cross Country Nationals, Max had an 11th-place finish while her team proved to be the fastest in the nation. Now a senior, Max is picking up where she left off with a first-place finish at the Northwest Classic and a second-place finish in the Danner Championships at Nike Portland XC already this season.

Teaghan Knox, Summit

For a team to win 11 straight state titles, it needs a constantly replenishing talent pool. That is certainly the case for Summit and Knox. Knox saw her freshman season end on the fifth-highest step on the podium at the 6A state meet at Lane Community College in Eugene ­— the youngest finisher in the top five. There has been no sophomore slump for Knox, who won the Spartan XC Invite and finished third in both the Northwest Classic and Nike Portland XC.

Olive Nye, Bend

Speaking of talented freshmen, another one is emerging in Central Oregon. Bend High’s Nye has already proved formidable on the cross-country trail in her first year of high school. She won the Saxon Classic in rather convincing fashion, finishing ahead of the second-place finisher by 11 seconds. Nye also finished 10th at the Northwest Classic, an impressive feat considering five Summit runners finished in the top nine.

Kate Bowen, Sisters

The Outlaws return their top runner from last year’s Oregon West Conference championship team. Bowen finished second at the OWC meet, then helped Sisters finish fourth at the 4A state meet with a seventh-place finish. The best finish of her senior season so far came at the Northwest Classic, where she set a season best and finished in sixth place.

Ella Thorsett, Sisters

Thorsett is yet another freshman off to a fast start to her high school racing career. She finished second in the Moderate Course at the Three Course Challenge, posted a fifth-place finish at the Northwest Classic and finished 21st at the Nike Portland XC, where she was second among freshman runners.

Bennet Jackson, Bend

Jackson was the highest local finisher in the boys varsity race at the Oxford Classic a year ago, the fifth runner to cross the finish line. At the Mountain Valley Conference championships, he helped Bend finish second as a team with his second-place finish. The Bend senior has a first-place finish this season at the Saxon Invite and was fourth at the Northwest Classic.

Cade Catterson, Crook Co.

Catterson — and Crook County — won the ­Intermountain Conference title a year ago. He was also his team’s highest finisher at the 5A state meet (10th), helping the Cowboys to a second-place finish. In his most recent race, the 5,000-meter Moderate Course at the Three Course Challenge, Catterson finished in sixth place.

Isaac Whitney, Oakridge

A senior from Oakridge, Whitney is coming off a top-10 finish at the 2A/1A state meet a season ago as a junior. He has already picked up a third-place finish this season at the Harrier’s Challenge. While his 39th-place finish at the Northwest Classic and a 20th-place finish at the Springfield Invitational may not appear impressive, he was competing against runners from much bigger schools.

— Reporter: 541-383-0307; brathbone@bendbulletin.com

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