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Back on the podium

By Staff | Aug 23, 2013

Junior Bailey Nelson is one of the Panthers’ top returners. PCT?File Photo

Injuries kept the Rugby girls cross country team from reaching their potential last season.

If the Panthers can overcome the injury bug this season, they should once again be among the top teams in the state.

Rugby finished second at the state meet last season, scoring 143 points, but far behind Hillsboro/Central Valley, which won the meet with just 63 points.

“I think we definitely have the talent to be in the top 5 again,” Panthers head coach Bill Jansen said. “We should be on the stand again. Where it’s going to be, who knows? Hillsboro looks really strong. They’ll be really tough.”

Rugby had five runners in the top 50 at state last year, and that depth should be the team’s strength once again.

PCT File Photo The Rugby girls cross country team returns all of its top runners after a second place finish at state last season.

“We’ve got 6-7 good runners, but health is an issue,” Jansen said.

Sophomore Lauren Christenson finished in 10th last year, but has struggled with injuries since the track season in the spring.

Likewise sophomore Bailey Nelson who had a serious ankle injury a week before the state meet last year and still finished in 42nd place.

“We couldn’t put in a lot of miles,” Christenson said. “We were both hurt. (The key to staying healthy) will be resting and taking care of yourself.”

While Christenson and Nelson could be in for slow starts to the season, Jansen said a pair of other runners should be hitting the course at full speed.

With only seven runners the Rugby boys cross country team will need to stay healthy. Chris Bieri/PCT

Eighth-grader Tristin Lunde finished 23rd at state last year and is coming off a strong season of track running distance races.

Allison Foster placed 25th at state and Jansen said she’s put in plenty of work over the summer.

“Allie Foster really looks good,” Jansen said. “She put in close to 200 miles this summer. She looks real strong, real good. She’s doubling. She’s playing volleyball too, so that’ll be a little bit of a factor. But it’s not like she hasn’t done it before. She looks stronger.”

Hannah Christenson, the team’s lone senior, placed 43rd at state, a position Jansen thinks she can improve on this year.

“She had a good year last year and just didn’t have really good region and state meets,” Jansen said. “Hopefully she’ll be ready to go.”

Junior Alexis Thompson (45th last year at state) and eighth-grader Jacquelyn Blessum (65th) should also be major contributors.

The team also added Karin Selland, who raced middle distances on the track team last spring.

“She qualified in the 400 and ran on our two-mile relay,” Jansen said. “She’s a known quantity as far as running is concerned. She has never been out for cross country, so it’ll be her first go at this. Hopefully by the end of the year, she’ll be up to speed.”

The team also has an infusion of youth with four new seventh-graders.

“We have a bunch of new girls that came up,” Nelson said. “We lost a couple, but we gained more than we lost.”

Boys team tries to overcome small numbers

The Rugby boys team finished in 12th last season, in part because many of their top runners struggled at the state meet.

The team is small, with just seven runners and the junior class providing four of those racers.

Junior Tanner Bernhardt will return as the team’s top runner. He was racing in the top 10 at state more than halfway through the race last year when an injury pushed him to the back of the pack.

Bernhardt focused on basketball for much of the summer, but said he’s still in good shape and ready for the season.

“I got a little bit done, not as much as I’d like to,” he said. “I’ve run more miles in the past but it wasn’t too bad of a summer. (All of the basketball) conditioned me a lot. It got me in shape to practice. Hopefully we should be pretty good. We have more juniors that should be able to step up for us this year.”

Joining Bernhardt in the junior class is Brady Fossum, Nolan Hovland and Noah Kraft.

“Nolan Hovland had a real nice season last year and had a good track season, too,” Jansen said. “He was running good 800s. We finally got him into running some mid-distance races in track. It’s be interesting to see where he goes, because he’s just getting stronger and stronger all the time.”

Kraft is an experienced runner, but Fossum, in his second season with the team, could be a wild card.

“Noah’s been out since he was a 7th grader, now he’s a junior,” Jansen said. “We’ll see where he goes. Brady, he was first year last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of progression he takes.”

Freshman John Mueller has also struggled with injuries, but Jansen said he has shown plenty of promise when healthy.

“He’s been fighting some knee and lung things,” Jansen said. “Depending on his health, he looked really good when he was young. We’ll see if he can get healthy and stronger.”

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