The Grant Union varsity cross country team’s workouts have steadily increased in intensity since practices began Aug. 13.
On Sept. 4, the athletes ran up and down hills — 12 hills for the boys and 11 for the girls — building stamina and endurance.
“We have upped their training intensity because they had miles on their legs,” said head coach Sonna Smith. “So they’re actually learning the hard way to achieve their goals.”
Smith said she’s excited to start the season with more numbers this year.
Nine out of 11 varsity boys were on last year’s team, and four of seven of the girls are also experienced. There are also 10 junior high runners, with seven boys and three girls.
Smith started the cross country team at Grant Union in 1995 and, after a hiatus, launched the team back up five years ago.
She not only coaches cross country, but is also the new athletic director this year and teaches science for Grant Union.
Leading the varsity team are two senior boys, Tanner Elliott and Braden Spencer.
Spencer, who has been on the team three years, said he has a goal to show up for every practice and improve his time. He said he’s happy to see more athletes out for the team.
Elliott, who has been on the team since eighth grade, agreed.
“It’s quite interesting to watch us go from barely having a boys and girls team to growing now to have a JV and varsity team,” he said.
He said he enjoys the challenge cross country offers.
“It’s a mental sport,” he said. “I believe when you do cross country, it keeps you in the best physical shape. It’s a challenge. You’re always working to improve your times. It helps you in life with your work ethic.”
Elliott broke into the 18s last year and said his goal is to get down to 17s or 16s.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with the team and improving from previous years of running,” he said.
Smith said that after the teams’ timed trial, held Aug. 30 at the Seventh Street Complex, there are two runners in the 20s and three in the 21s for the boys, which she said will give the team some depth going into the season. She said this year’s goals are based on how they ended last season.
“We’re looking at them running consistently in the low 20s and breaking into the teens,” she said.
Grant Union’s toughest competition in the district for the boys comes from Union/Cove, which has a runner who has finished the 5K in under 16 minutes.
Other teams in Special District 3 are Adrian, Elgin, Four Rivers, Griswold, Nixyaawii, Stanfield-Echo and Weston-McEwen.
The Prospector girls additionally compete with 2A teams Condon/Wheeler and Enterprise/Joseph/Wallowa and 3A teams Burns, Irrigon, La Pine, Nyssa, Riverside and Vale.
Grant Union attended its first competition of the season, the Runner Soul XC Fest in Hermiston, on Saturday.
Smith said the event is a flat race, which should provide a good first-race time to build off of for the rest of the season.
The boys team has a goal to move up two places at the district competition this year.
The girls didn’t have a full team last year, because of injuries, so keeping everyone healthy and having a team at districts is the goal.
“Having that team will motivate all the runners to strive for their best time,” Smith said, adding she hopes their hard work will pay off.
Individually, the athletes also have educational goals, and Smith said cross country runners tend to be excellent students.
“We want our athletes to realize that they are students first,” she said. “It’s a sport that requires you to be dedicated and focused on your outcome.”
2018 Grant Union cross country schedule
Sept. 14: Catherine Creek Scamper at Catherine Creek (near Union)
Sept. 21: Footrace to Valhalla in Umatilla, varsity boys at 1:45 p.m., varsity girls 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 28: Baker Invitational at the Baker City Golf Course, varsity girls at 4:45 p.m., varsity boys 5:15 p.m.
Oct. 4: Mustang Invitational in Heppner at Thompson Ranch, varsity girls at 4 p.m., varsity boys 4:45 p.m.
Oct. 13: Idlewild Invitational at Idlewild Campground (near Burns), varsity girls at 11:15 a.m., varsity boys at 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 18: Kyle Burnside Wildhorse Invite in Pendleton, varsity girls at 3 p.m., varsity boys at 3:35 p.m.
Oct. 26: 3A/2A/1A Special District 3 at Pendleton Community Park, boys 2A/1A varsity at 3 p.m., girls 2A/1A varsity at 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 3: OSAA 3A/2A/1A State Championships at Lane Community College in Eugene, TBA