Five schools, 71 boys and girls varsity runners and, after all races concluded, only one athlete reached the finish line with a faster time than Cottage Grove freshman Jaden Owens.
The 2019 Sky-Em League Cross Country Championships were held last Thurs., Oct. 31 at Lane Community College (LCC). The crisp, sunny weather provided ideal conditions for the Lions’ 14 total varsity runners — seven boys and seven girls — as half of them achieved personal records, none more impressive than Owens announcing himself to the world of Sky-Em cross country with a second-place finish and a spot in this week’s state championship.
As the runners completed the second lap of the 5k course, the Lions’ faithful may have been surprised to see senior standout Jimmy Talley in the middle of the pack. Talley finished fifth in the district race in his 2017 sophomore season — when Cottage Grove placed second as a team and earned a group invite to the OSAA state championships — and won the race last year as a junior.
Talley, however, had found himself hobbled by nagging injuries and ailments throughout much of the second half of the 2019 season. Thus, in his final race as a Lion, Talley served as an ideal teammate, motivator and pace-setter for the freshman phenom Owens.
“Jimmy knows that there were some events in his health that messed with him [this year],” said head coach Jim Settelmeyer. “But he was going to come and help Jaden through to state. I’m proud of that kind of behavior, individuals being able to celebrate what they accomplished today, but also what other people did.”
But as Talley rounded the course at a slower pace than usual, it was Owens who pulled ever closer to the front, including a final kick around the last 300 meters of the LCC track.
The race was won handily by Marist senior Wiley Watts in 16:11.6, but it was Owens’ last-ditch push that carried him beyond Marshfield senior Aaron Prince mere steps from the finish line. Owens bested his previous personal record by over 30 seconds, finishing in 16:33.5, less than a second ahead of Prince. Talley ended up eighteenth in 17:41.9.
The humble, if timid freshman downplayed the unexpected excitement of the moment after the race when asked about his result.
“Just like always, I trained, and then I have Jimmy Talley, so he helps me a lot. But, yeah just [Jim] Settelmeyer giving us the coaching we need.”
When Settelmeyer, Talley, Owens and the rest of the Lions’ team looked up at the final standings, they saw their prized freshman’s name there amongst a sea of upperclassmen.
Cottage Grove cross country already had reason to be excited for 2019 and beyond with their largest crop of underclassmen runners ever, but having a star - particularly one with the makeup of Owens - is a particularly sweet cherry on top.
“He definitely is a very positive, humble, lead-by-example kind of guy,” Settelmeyer said effusively of Owens.
“What can you say? He listens carefully when you ask him to help out others and does things that you hope will help him. It’s great as a coach to have somebody who will ask questions if they’re unsure of something … he’s so coachable and so willing to work as a member of the team.”
As for the rest of the Lions’ contingent, seven boys and girls runners set their personal records. Junior Jaden Thuesen, who only began running a few years ago and now has a top-25 district finish on his resume, is excited by the progress he’s made and the further growth he hopes to achieve next year.
“I’m hoping to try and get a minute faster than what I am now. I wanna finish off my school running career somewhere around 17 minutes,” Thuesen said.
“Since I joined sports so late, I don’t really have any awards for anything so I think it would be nice to have some recognition, an award that just says, ‘Hey, I’m pretty decent at this.’”
Decent, outstanding, unexpected. Whatever the choice of words, the district championships capped off a season where nearly every runner for the Lions’ saw consistent, marked improvement in their 5k times, culminating in Thursday’s PR parade.
For the girls, freshman Helen Leal-Coronel bested her previous record by over 14 seconds with a time of 24:25.5, which is also a nearly three-minute improvement over her early season times. Sophomore Piper Youngmayr (25:06.3) was 26 seconds faster than her previous best and fellow second-year Hannah Cook (25:19.2) improved by nearly a full minute.
Along with Owens and Thuesen, the boys also got personal bests from sophomore Andy Wiley (19:52.6) and junior Maycol Pablo Herrera (20:01.1).
The OSAA 4A State Championships will be held Sat., Nov. 9 at LCC. The first race begins at 11:45 a.m.. For more results from the Sky-Em District race, visit www.athletic.net/CrossCountry/meet/156887/results.