Lions Cross Country teams looking to make history

Jaden Owens [Left] and Carter Bengston [right] have finished in the top ten of every Cottage Grove cross country meet this season.

There is little doubt that the Cottage Grove cross country team is on the rise. Ricky Knutson coached his first year with the Lions in 2021. That Cottage Grove boys team took second in the league championships, then went on to conclude the season with their best state finish since 1975, good for third place.

“Ricky is such a great coach. Last year was a year of us figuring things out. He’s still doing new stuff this year, but he knows what we need to do to get better and he makes us feel good while doing it,” sophomore Carter Bengston said.

“He has been very helpful. Anytime I have any kind of question I can ask him. He’s there. He’s a very good coach for sure,” senior Jaden Owens added.

At last year’s state championships, Owens finished in the top 10 with a 17:09 time and Bengston ran the fastest time for freshman at the meet, at 17:11. Again this year, the Lions boys’ team is led by those two while also seeing an excellent start from the girls’ team.

“It’s been fun to see the team jell a lot more this season. Top to bottom I would say the athletes are more bought in to what we are doing. They’ve been working really hard,” Knutson said.

Last Wednesday, Oct. 5, the mid-season OSAA 4A cross country coaches’ poll was released, ranking the boys’ team at No. 7. Three of top seven teams in the boys 4A coaches’ poll are from the Sky-Em League. The Lions are one of only two 4A schools that have both teams ranked in the top seven in the state, as the girls’ team, who only has only five runners, was ranked 6th.

“The girls’ team hasn't qualified for 14 years [for state] and only once since 1981. They're going to have a shot this season,” Knutson said. “We really don't have a lot of girls out but, you know, it takes five [runners] to score. What we don't have in numbers we make up for in terms of strength. We basically have two sophomores and three freshmen. Just a matter of putting them together in the right time in districts week.”

The Lions girls are led by freshman Ella Cardwell, sophomore Bella Keating, freshman Zoey Knutson, freshman Jordynn Owens and sophomore Allison Palluck.  Due to injury, the Lions girls team only had four runners when they traveled to Philomath for the Paul Mariman Invitational. Team highlights for the girls this season were when they took 4th In the Ultimook race and 3rd at the CG Bramble Scramble.

On Oct. 27, the girls’ team will attempt to be the first in school history to win a league championship.

For the Lions boys’ team, Jaden Owens started the season strongly by finishing in the top 10 in early September in both the Ultimook race and the Saxon Invite.

“Last year was [Owens’] junior year and he finished up being All-state, but he's done an awesome job, learning what it takes in the off-season to have success during the season. He's really dedicated himself in the last couple of off-seasons to putting in the miles. He's putting in 50-mile weeks for that base training. I think it's been fun to see the outcome and the results,” Knutson said. “It’s been fun to see how much more confident he is while racing against some of the top guys in the state. Everything you see is him doing lonely, hard stuff in the off-season. It's pretty tough to have self-discipline and motivation to do that.”

On Oct. 1, Owens was able to take first place by outkicking senior Ben Hernandez of Philomath with a time of 17:04.1 at the Woahink Lake XC Invitational in Florence. It was the second week in a row Owens took first place, also earning first at the CG Bramble Scramble on Sept. 24. As a team, the Lions boys took fourth at the Woahink Lake XC invitational.

“The fun thing is that the last two weeks [Owens] has won, he has won in different ways. The first race was here [during the Bramble Scramble]. He made a strong move with about a mile to go on the hill, which takes a lot of courage to move with that much in the race left. That was a great win for him. Then Saturday, with 900-meters to go, he was still in second place, then made the move late and outkicked [Ben Hernandez of Philomath]. It's cool to see he's feeling confident winning in multiple ways. I think it’s been a fun senior year for him,” Knutson added.

Carter Bengston has also put together a nice season, finishing fourth at the Woahink Lake XC Invitational, the CG Bramble Scramble, and the Northwest XC Classic. Not to dismiss the other two races earlier this season, where he also finished in the top 10. Bengston and Owens might give the Lions their first chance at having two top 10 finishers in the state championships — coming on Nov. 5 — in Cottage Grove High School history.  

“I was expecting [going into the season] that we would be performing well; I knew Jaden would be preforming really well. The fact I’m so close to him this year is very encouraging,” Bengston said.

“We both have trained really well together and put in the work this summer. We have a really good coach, and overall it’s been really successful,” Owens added. 

Saturday in Philomath during the Paul Mariman Invitational, Owens finished first yet again for Cottage Grove, making him the first place finisher in each of his last three meets. Bengston finished fourth for the Lions. It was a rematch from when they faced off with Hernandez and senior Mateo Candanoza of Philomath the week before in Florence. Hernandez finished second to Owens again while Candanoza took fifth, behind Cottage Grove’s Bengtson. It may be possible that those four see each other again at the state championships.

“I like running with the Philomath guys, they are very nice. I’m friends with them now, so it’s fun to run together,” Owens laughed about.

It was both the Philomath Warriors teams who were ranked number one in the coaches’ polls. While the Lions had strong performances, it was also the Warriors boys and girls’ teams who took first place at the meet. Cottage Grove finished fifth. 

Today, Thursday, Oct. 13, the Lions traveled to Sisters for the Clash of the Cascades. Then on Oct.19, the team will host the Ragtag Relay at Middlefield Golf Course before the league championships the following week at Lane Community College.