EUGENE — Finishing second to Sisters in the Oregon West meet a week earlier did not sit well with the Philomath boys cross-country team.
“Stick together and keep an eye on Sisters — that was our main idea and we really followed through with it and made it happen,” junior Grant Hellesto said Saturday after Philomath edged the Outlaws for the Class 4A state championship. “We beat Sisters by five points; it was close, especially after they beat us by four at districts.
“We did not want to let that happen again,” he added.
All seven Philomath runners ran personal-best times and finished in the top 40 while Sisters’ No. 5 runner ended up 41st. That was one of the keys to earning the first-place trophy.
“These guys were so focused this week and they knew exactly what they had to do,” PHS coach Joe Fulton said. “They knew they had to run that last mile hard to catch Sisters’ guys and stay in front of them because we knew it was going to be tough to beat a team that could go 1-2. They went 1-3 and so the goal was to put seven guys in front of their fifth man and that’s what we did.”
Philomath ended up with 65 points with Sisters second with 70 and Klamath Union third with 82.
Brody Bushnell was the first PHS runner to come in and he also put in the top performance by a freshman at the meet. He placed ninth overall in 16:20.20.
“We wanted to stay together for most of the race and then try to have a good kick and get in as many people as we can,” Bushnell said. “(I wanted) to stay with the team and keep guys I wanted to beat in sight so I could always try to outkick them at the end.”
The running-in-a-group strategy worked exactly as envisioned.
“We knew we had to run together; we knew that was going to be the only way to beat Sisters,” said Brody Gerig, who finished 15th in 16:24.00. “They’re a really good team; they’ve got the top two guys but running together, we did that, and that really made the difference.”
Gerig was a key addition to the team in early October, rejoining the program after missing the first half of the season. Gerig suffered a stress fracture in his tibia last spring. He felt no pain in his leg while running this fall.
“At one point, I started to fall behind and I was like, ‘oh man, oh shoot,’ but I was like, ‘no, just dig in’ and I got up with the guys and I look over and all four of us are just right there and we’re just pounding it,” Gerig said.
Justin Enghauser was another key athlete in the team’s second-half fortunes. He broke 17 minutes for the first time at Philomath’s home meet on Oct. 12 and peaked at state with a PR time of 16:27.30.
“I just feel like I was much more mentally in it and it felt good,” Enghauser said about his second half of the season. “I tried staying with the top three guys and it worked.”
Hellesto placed 16th in 16:24.10 as the Warriors finished with four runners among the top 18.
Junior Sean Cummings finished 27th (16:47.50), senior Noah King was 33rd (17:00.10) and junior Levi Knutson was 40th (17:05.00).
“It wasn’t my best race but I just did what I needed to do to put me in front of their fifth guy,” said Knutson, who in reality did record a PR with his time.
Sisters junior John Peckham won the individual title in 15:48.70. Teammate Will Thorsett, a junior, finished third in 16:00.10. Baker senior Kale Cassidy placed second ahead of Thorsett to help Philomath in the points race. The Outlaws' other three runners placed 19th, 22nd and 41st.
For the Philomath boys cross-country program, it’s the first state title since 2010 and fourth in school history — the other two coming in 1993 under Paul Mariman and 2003 under Fulton. The PHS boys and girls combined have won 12 cross-country championships.
Class 4A State Championships
Saturday at Eugene
Team scoring: Philomath 65, Sisters 70, Klamath Union 82, Marist 98, Baker 99, Siuslaw 129, Tillamook 146, Hidden Valley 203, La Grande 278, Valley Catholic 300, Molalla 328, Gladstone 344.
Top 10 individuals: 1, John Peckham, Sisters, 15:48.70; 2, Kale Cassidy, Baker, 15:57.20; 3, Will Thorsett, Sisters, 16:00.10; 4, Zach Wallace, Klamath Union, 16:13.30; 5, Brendon Jensen, Siuslaw, 16:14.70; 6, Wiley Watts, Marist, 16:17.00; 7, Lance Trees, Ontario, 16:18.50; 8, Patrick Clayburn, North Valley, 16:19.40; 9, Brody Bushnell, Philomath, 16:20.20; 10, Marshall Bush, Tillamook, 16:20.30.
Other PHS Results: 15, Brody Gerig, 16:24.00; 16, Grant Hellesto, 16:24.10; 18, Justin Enghauser, 16:27.30; 28, Sean Cummings, 16:47.50; 33, Noah King, 17:00.10; 40, Levi Knutson, 17:05.00.