TURNER — Striding to the finish line with ease Saturday, Philomath sophomore Hannah Hernandez finished 14 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
It probably could've been a much larger margin of victory at the Oregon West Conference Championships, staged this year in pleasant weather at Cascade High School. Hernandez was the overwhelming favorite as one of the top cross-country runners in the state and she didn't need to empty the tank to earn a ticket to Eugene.
"I'm running through this and my objective today was to qualify for state," said Hernandez, who came in at 19:29.6, roughly 47 seconds slower than her personal-best 18:42.3 that she set on the home course at the Paul Mariman Invitational.
Just qualifying was the objective of the entire team and the slower-than-usual times also could be found elsewhere on the squad. Only freshman Sarah McDaniel had a personal-best with a 21:25.2 and in fact, she's run a better time in every meet all season.
Philomath took the team title with 45 points with Stayton (58) edging Yamhill-Carlton for second (63).
"I think the girls were treating it more like a get-through-this-meet to get to state," PHS coach Joe Fulton said. "A couple of the girls were struggling and I think the fact that three of them decided to run together ... they ran in a nice, safe empty spot which is pretty good for seventh, eighth and ninth."
Hernandez and runner-up Hailey Notman of Stayton were the lone runners to finish under 20 minutes. Sophomore Rivers Nuno (21:20.14), McDaniel and sophomore Madison Bushnell (21:36.17) were in those 7-8-9 spots.
"They probably should've gone out a little bit quicker and they'll need to do that next week if they've got any chance at all of getting into the top four (team standings)," Fulton said.
Philomath's girls compete at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene.
"This week, we're going to be doing tapering going into it," Hernandez said. "I'm ready for state ... it can be anybody's race at that point."
Based on the times turned in this season in 4A, Hernandez knows what she's talking about. The top four competitors have times less than 4 seconds apart with Tillamook's Solace Bergeron (18:41.6), Crook County's Jan Carne (18:42.1), Philomath's Hernandez (18:42.3) and Scappoose's Linnaea Kavulich (18:44.2).
Hernandez broke onto the high school cross-country scene last year as a freshman, winning the conference title and placing fourth at the state meet.
"I think this season was phenomenal, it was amazing," Hernandez said. "It was great to come back and see runners that I looked up to last year and I was a minute behind them but then this year, I came in and was within 15 seconds of them."
It was important for Hernandez to close the gap against those top runners from 2016. Bergeron placed second and Kavulich was third ahead of Hernandez at the state meet. Hernandez had a time of 19:23.
"That was really powerful for me to know that as long as I continue to train hard and do what I need to do, I can become better each year progressively and possibly win state," Hernandez said.
Rounding out the state-qualifying squad at the district meet for Philomath were sophomore Alexis Van Vlack (20th, 22:52.19) and freshman Audrey Davis (24th, 23:35.96).
Nuno, who is new to the high school program this season after moving to Philomath from Utah, enjoys the challenge.
"You get to go out and just push yourself to your limits and it's just something that's not necessarily fun in the moment, but afterwards, you just feel accomplished when you're done," said Nuno, whose family lived in Philomath before moving to Salt Lake City about four years ago.
Nuno also had her PR at the Oct. 7 Mariman meet.
"Usually I don't get nervous, I just have to be positive while I'm running," said Nuno, a cousin of Bushnell. "That helps to get through it ... it just seems a lot faster when you're smiling."
In another note from the meet, Philomath also had the junior varsity champion with freshman Dani Beck taking first place by about 38 seconds over the runner-up.
Oregon West Conference Championships
Saturday at Cascade HS
Team scoring: Philomath 45, Stayton 58, Yamhill-Carlton 63, Newport 81, Cascade 83.
Top 10 individuals: 1, Hannah Hernandez, PHS, 19:29.57; 2, Hailey Notman, Stayton, 19:44.04; 3, Andie Whitlow, Yamhill-Carlton, 20:11.82; 4, Savanna Waters, Cascade, 20:25.16; 5, Alanna Fanning, Newport, 20:25.51; 6, Skyla Anderson, Stayton, 20:45.12; 7, Rivers Nuno, Philomath, 21:20.14; 8, Sarah McDaniel, Philomath, 21:25.13; 9, Madison Bushnell, Philomath, 21:36.17; 10, Grace Armstrong, Yamhill-Carlton, 21:53.36.
Other PHS Results: 20, Alexis Van Vlack, 22:52.19; 24, Audrey Davis, 23:35.96.
Team scoring: Stayton 20, Cascade 50, Philomath 51
PHS Results: 1, Dani Beck, 24:51.54; 13, Amey McDaniel, 29:14.38; 14, Sierra Young, 29:15.22; 15, Raeanna Schultz, 30:11.51; 16, Aidan Goff, 30:13.55; 17, Taylor Schultz, 30:18.83; 28, Kenzie McHuron-Guss, 43:02.54.