UMATILLA — There was a sea of local high school pop-up tents surrounding the track at Umatilla High School on Friday afternoon. Twelve regional high schools gathered for the Footrace to Valhalla cross country meet, and only one dominated. Hermiston has fared well through the start of the season, but proved today the Bulldogs are true contenders for postseason success.
The long day of races on an unusual course — three loops around a mapped out one-mile radius that started on the track and ended near the 50-yard line of the football field — started at noon with the field of middle school girls. As the competition continued, the scheduled times were pushed back nearly 30 minutes to accommodate the finals runners of each race.
The wait for the last and final high school race was well worth it, as fans, fellow competitors, and even volunteers were cheering on Hermiston’s Isaac Sanchez. Sanchez led the field from the beginning, at first with a group of about three other Bulldogs but then as he came around for the second lap and then the final lap, he was in a race all his own. There was no other runner he had to worry about, it was just him and the clock.
Sanchez was seen checking his pace when he would make appearances on the track’s straight away before disappearing into the forest. By the time he made it to the final stretch denoted by chute ropes and pennants, the crowd was simply cheering because he was the leader. It wasn’t until a fellow runner watching from outside of the marked course yelled, “break 16, break 16” that everyone realized they were witnessing the best race Sanchez has ever ran. Unofficially, he clocked 15:52.
“I’m overjoyed right now,” he said breathlessly after his race. “I have never even gotten close to breaking 16 [minutes] before so this is awesome.”
The new personal record came as a shock, because Sanchez wasn’t pushing his pace until after the first mile.
“I’m really surprised,” he said. “Because the pace I was running at the beginning was just the pace set to help hold some of my other teammates along but I felt good at a mile and my coach told me to go so that’s what I did.”
He wasn’t the only Bulldog to put a new PRs.
“All of the top five [boys] ran PRs and you can’t be upset with that in the least, very good performance for the boys,” head coach Troy Blackburn said.
A key to a successful post season is for the runners inside and just outside of the top five to clock around 17 minutes, Blackburn added. Something the boys team accomplished today.
“It’s a big confidence boost,” he said. “For them to go in a smaller meet and push themselves and show they can go and compete with anyone in the state. The times ran today were competitive.”
The girls were just as competitive today, despite being down a few runners. The team was missing four of their top-eight competitors, but that didn’t stop them from also clocking top times and new PRs.
“I still thought we could take it,” Blackburn said. “We were in the running.”
From Hermiston’s No. 1 runner Melany Solorio, who unofficially ran 19:58, all the way to its No. 7 runner Faith Bartch, Blackburn was impressed with each performance.
“If we continue to make progress and improve, it’s good for our team and it helps us to continue to build that confidence that we can go compete at state and bring back the trophy,” Blackburn said, “which is the goal we have on both the girls and boys side.”
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Official team scores
Girls 5,000-meter varsity
1. Hermiston 47
2. Redmond 53
3. Pendleton 56
4. Griswold 71
5. Stanfield 107
Boys 5,000-meter varsity
1. Hermiston 22
2. Redmond 58
3. Pendleton 80
4. Heppner 88
5. Griswold 148
6. Grant Union 165
7. McLoughlin 199
8. Riverside-Irrigon 213