Bucks get back into hardware business

The Pendleton girls' cross country team starts the race in the 5A Girls' State Meet at Lane Community College in Eugene on Saturday. Photo by Peter Strong/for the East?Oregonian

EUGENE - Nineteen years ago, Pendleton's No. 1 runner Nicole Stewart just barely missed out on a trophy at the state cross country meet.

Saturday, the coach for Pendleton's girls cross country team finally got some hardware, courtesy of seven Buckaroo runners.

Three runners finished in the top 20 at Lane Community College in the OSAA 5A girls cross country state championship, helping Pendleton finish third in the team standings with 76 points. It is the first cross country trophy for PHS since 1981.

"When we qualified for state she (Stewart) was more excited than we were," said junior Shoni Schimmel, who ran a 20:01.7 and finished 20th.

"When I ran we took fifth and they only trophied the top four teams, so this is just great," said an ecstatic Stewart. "We got a plaque, but these girls got a trophy!"

Summit of Bend, a running powerhouse, took the team title with 25 points. Crater was second with 73 points.

It was a banner day for the Intermountain Conference, as Crook County's Kellie Folley won the individual title in 18:32.5. Hermiston's Cristal Delgado finished seventh in 19:26.7.

"Summit has been good for a lot of years, and we've been trying to break into that tradition," Stewart said.

Freshman Sandy Torres, who was the Buckaroos' top finisher at 19:57.4 (16th overall), said the team did a lot of speed work on the track the last week in practice to prepare.

"Nicole told us it had all come up to this point and that we could settle or surge," said Christine Harwood, who ran a 20:01.4 (18th overall). "She said that 19 years ago she settled and she's always regretted it. We didn't want to have that feeling."

The Buckaroos shot out to the front at the start, and ran together for most of the first mile. At the two mile mark they slightly trailed the front pack, but finished strong enough to earn something new to put in the trophy case at PHS.

Schimmel, the class 5A girls basketball player of the year last season, competed for the last time in an IMC uniform. A transfer this year from Hermiston, Schimmel will be moving to Franklin High School in Portland sometime next week. Schimmel's mom, Ceci Moses, was just named coach of the Quakers girls basketball team.

Delgado's finish was impressive considering she did not run cross country last year. That's because Delgado, a senior, had a baby last season. Her son, Caden, was born Nov. 24, 2007. By the beginning of January, Delgado was back to training full-time.

"My big goal was to finish top five, but I feel pretty good about my place," Delgado said.

Hermiston's coach, Jake Puzey, said Delgado's story is as inspiring as anyone can imagine and that she has "made the best of a hard situation."

"She is going to college, on a scholarship and she's going to provide for herself," he said. "Anything that tries to stand in her way of that better be ready for a fight."

Delgado was with the lead pack for much of the race, but as runners started to separate, she fell to fourth. By the time she hit the track with 300 meters to go, she was in seventh place, and couldn't make up the lost time, despite what she said was probably her best kick of the season. Nonetheless, Puzey was happy with her race, too.

"In this sport you can't convince people to be great runners," Puzey said. "You can direct their energies, but they either have it or they don't. She's got it."

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