TWIN FALLS • Despite what numbers, records and common sense might say, cross-country is as much of a team sport as football, basketball or soccer. Because for all the times and accolades that runners might rack up throughout the year, Twin Falls coach Marty Grindstaff firmly believes that it is the team aspect of the races that brings out the best in the young men and women competing year after year.
“It’s individual but it’s team. They’re very conscientious (of the team),” Grindstaff said. “It’s a unique sport and it’s a special sport. And it’s a lot of fun.”
As the district meets for the four classifications in the Magic Valley approach, it’s a balancing act between individual and team: half of the teams in a given district go to state based on the points their top runners accumulate. But the top-third of individual runners also automatically gain bids as well. There is often overlap but frequently it will be just a single runner who represents a school at the state meet.
And that’s where the team aspect comes back into play; no runner wants to be the only one of his or her teammates who gets the chance of a lifetime.
“Team means a lot to them. They don’t want to be running by themselves,” Grindstaff said.
It is the district meets that propel teams and individuals to the state meets in November. In 2014 the Magic Valley had three top-17 finishers in the 1A/2A boys classification, three 3A teams boys and girls teams combine to finish in the top 10 in 3A and a staggering six combined boys and girls team finish in the top-12 in 4A at last year’s state competitions.
On the team side of things it looks like a two-squad race for the top spot in the Great Basin Conference between Jerome and Twin Falls in both the boys and girls races.
The Tigers and Bruins have jostled for position all season long at meets and feature a pair of the top runners on the boys side in the state in Twin’s Cannon Leavitt and Jerome’s Dallon Suitter. Twin Falls also features one of the top female runners in the state in Ashley Hutchinson, whose time of 19:34.4 ranks her third in 4A.
“I expect to win both district titles,” Twin Falls coach Marty Grindstaff said. “The boys side is going to be really close with Jerome. They’ve beaten us and we’ve beaten them. I think it will be (by) a point or two.”
Of course, given that it is a six-team conference, there is more than enough room for both Jerome and Twin Falls, as the conference sends three teams to state on both sides. Among those in the mix are the Wood River Wolverines. Head coach Monte Brothwell estimates that, at this moment, his teams are probably fourth or fifth in the conference. But when it comes to districts, you never really know what you’re going to get. In fact, he isn’t even sure what he’s going to get from his own team, as a pair of his runners are currently suffering from injuries, including one who was hurt playing basketball.
“Whoever shows up healthy is a contender,” Brothwell explained. “You just never know ... You never count your chickens before they hatch.”
On an individual level Grindstaff expects a close race on the boys side between Leavitt and Suitter, though it is Canyon Ridge’s Trajan Holtzen who holds this year’s fastest time in the conference at 16:36.2. Twin Falls has the top-four fastest times in the conference this season on the girls side. In addition to the teams who make it to state, the top 13 or 14 individual times also earn berths as well.
“Every coach going there wants to get their team to state,” Brothwell said.
For Gooding coach Kent Seifert, the individual winner of the district championship cross country meet on the boys side is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Filer runner Austin Young’s season-best time of 16:57.6 is more than a minute faster than the next closest runner from the Sawtooth Central Conference. In fact, he’s pretty certain of who the two teams who qualify for state from the conference will be, too, in Kimberly and Buhl. For the first time in what seems like forever.
“The pendulum swings,” Seifert said. “We’re still a couple years away.”
It’s a big change for Gooding, who has been represented as a team in the state meet seemingly forever. But in his eyes it’s a two-team race between the Bulldogs and Indians.
“We’re just really young,” Seifert said of his team. “We don’t have those runners ... but we will.”
Buhl is led by Nielsen Lundgren, Ethan Jacobson and Greg Loveless on the boys side and Kendra Benson, America Jaramillo and Serena Sheldon on the girls side. Mitchell Crane and Kirby Heider lead the Kimberly boys while Paige Smith and Kayla Bordi lead the girls.
Still, though Seifert expects Filer’s Austin Young to take the individual crown, he has expectations for individuals from his team to qualify as well. He said he believes Caleb Baker “should finish in the top-10” on the boys side and that Cami McHan “has a shot” as well.
“For individuals, we certainly have expectations,” Seifert said. “We’re hoping to get them there.”
The 2A and 1A boys compete at the same district tournament. The Declo boys team is led by Jordan Baker and Cortland Wells, whose season-best times are within two second of one another. The Declo girls are led by Brooklyn Hoopes and Teighlor Heiner. The Wendell Trojans feature Woody Smith and John Lancaster and Kiya Kelsey and Lindsey Egbert on the boys and girls sides, respectively.
In 1A Valley’s Ben Christensen looks like the likely winner in boys individual in the district, as his time of season-best 16:57 is fourth best in the classification. The best time in girls in 1A belongs to Richfield’s Erica Kent of the Northside Conference. As opposed to most Magic Valley programs that all belong in the same conference within a classification, the 1A schools belong to three conferences: The Magic Valley, Northside and Snake River Conferences. The Magic Valley Conference is made up of Glenns Ferry, Shoshone, Hagerman, Oakley and Raft River. Northside consists of Bliss, Camas County, Carey, Castleford, Community School, Dietrich, Idaho School for the Deaf, Lighthouse Christian, Murtaugh, North Valley Academy and Richfield. Finally, the Snake River Conference is Valley and Hansen. They will compete at the same district tournament with the 2A squads.
The Valley boys finished sixth in the 1A/2A state meet a year ago and won the district title while Declo and Oakley finished no. 16 and 17 at state, respectively. Ben Christensen took third at districts a year ago and no. 38 at state.
“Our team goal (for boys) is to win districts. Ben Christensen and Adam Elorrieta should contend for the number one spot,” Valley coach Steve Hunter said. “We’d like to have all of our top five in the top ten.”
On the girls end Hunter thinks his team has a chance as well.
“The team is right in the hunt for the district title. It will be close,” Hunter said. “Kelsey Henry and Jakobi Johnson will be somewhere in the top ten.”