Unless Hermiston boys’ cross country wins a state championship, its team and coach will be extremely disappointed.

Returning its top-four male runners from a fourth-place 2009 squad, Hermiston’s boys swept the Columbia River Conference at district on Saturday.

With the talent of district champion Eduardo Juarez (15:47.17), plus top-five CRC placers Juan Delgado (16:03.58), Alex Cisneros (16:07.27), Andrew Valdez (16:10.58) and Javier Velasco (16:11.98), the Bulldogs are on the bubble of an ESPN top-10 Northwest ranking.

 “Everyone in our top-five is better than I was as a senior, and I was the No. 1 guy on a (Hermiston) team that placed fourth at state before the reclassification,” coach Jake Puzey said.

Credentials galore, three Bulldogs broke into Hermiston High Schools’ top-10 five kilometer/three mile list this year. They were Juarez in third (15:38), Velasco fifth (15:47) and freshman Cisneros sixth (15:47) all-time.

They were cautious to admit, but Puzey and the boys said a top-five state sweep has crossed their minds.

“Anything is possible,” said Puzey. “I think it would be pretty sweet to be Hermiston against the rest of the state of Oregon.”

Rivaling Hermiston on the boys’ side will be Summit, Corvallis and Franklin, each champions of their respective districts. Valdez thinks the state race will come down to “whoever wants it more will win.”

Hermiston’s girls’ and boys’ teams are packed with youth, which worries Puzey heading into state. Two freshmen are among Hermiston’s top six boys and freshman Katie Markwick and sophomore Maggie Coleman are top-three female runners.

“It’s just another meet to us because we ran at Concordia and Bob Firman,” Markwick said of invites with better competition than in Oregon.

Puzey’s game plan all season was to downplay the state meet with tough competition early on. His boys’ team took second place in Richland to the Northwest’s best team, North Central, beating highly regarded Kamiakan and Mt. Spokane on Oct. 9.

A top-five Hermiston girls’ finish is “ambitious but conceivable,” said Puzey, if runners meet their potential. The top-10 list is a conservative bet.

Markwick and junior Jordyn Rohrman peaked at the right time, faster by 1:00 and 1:30 at district than the start of their season at Sandstone Middle School’s course.

“Katie used to run with her friends at the back of the JV pack and now she’s decided she wants to run with the guys,” Puzey said.

Besides Markwick, Rohrman was the only Hermiston female to finish in the top five at districts, clocking a 20:04.65. She said her team’s goal was to reach the meet, and anything else would be gravy.

“We just want to pack-up and run PR’s,” Rohrman said. “This is just getting to experience the state meet because we’ve all worked very hard for it.”

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