Brennan Whalen shows off a grin during his training on Monday evening. Whalen is expected to be one of the top runners for the McNary cross country team this season (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
McNary’s boys’ cross country team didn’t finish where they wanted to in 2018, placing seventh at the Mountain Valley Conference district meet.
But with more than 30 kids out for the team, including a number of key returners, head coach David Holcomb is feeling encouraged as his squad gets ready for the 2019 season.
“I feel really good about the boys team. We have had some really dedicated kids throughout summer workouts,” Holcomb said. “We’re really excited about the boys taking the next step at the district meet.”
“We have some guys that have been around the program for a few years now and they will be able to lead some of the younger guys by example.”
Two of the Celtics more experienced runners are twin brothers Ethan and Brennan Whalen, who are going to be juniors this season — both athletes ran personal-bests under the 18-minute mark last season.
Despite improving their respective times significantly from their freshman seasons, Ethan and Brennan were disappointed by their individual performances at the 2018 district meet and are looking to redeem themselves this season.
“They are both really strong runners. They had good seasons, but they didn’t compete the way they wanted to. They are pretty hard on themselves and have lofty goals. But I think they are using that for fuel this year,” Holcomb said.
McNary will also be relying on sophomore Caleb McCoy and junior Andrew Goemare at the front end of the varsity lineup.
Goemare had a personal-record time of 18:21.7 late in the season in 2018, while McCoy was a top five freshman finisher at the district meet last season.
Along with reliable returners, there are a few newcomers that Holcomb expects to have an impact for the Celtics.
Sophomore Benjamin Standley was one of top middle-distance runners for the McNary track team during the spring and hopes that his success will transfer to cross country.
Freshman Connor Roop will also be joining the Celtics team after being a top-15 finisher for Whiteaker Middle School at the All-City meet in 2017 and 2018.
One thing that will be in McNary’s favor in their preparation for the conference meet is that the competition will be hosted at Bush Park in Salem, — as opposed to last season’s meet, which took place at Central Oregon Community College in Bend.
“Last year, we underperformed a little bit at Bend. I think they were surprised by the course. The game plan just didn’t go how we wanted it to go,” Holcomb said. “They are a lot more familiar with Bush Park. They have been running there since middle school or before, so we feel good about that.”
The MVC is one of the top leagues in the state when it comes to cross country, with Bend, Mountain View and Summit expected to be the leaders of the league once again this season. But Holcomb believes that his crew can match up with all the Salem schools.
“We compete in a really tough league. We have some of the top teams in the Northwest. But with what we have got, we feel like we can compete with the other Salem schools pretty nicely,” Holcomb said.
Even though his varsity boys lineup is close to complete, Holcomb still is encouraging people to join the team.
“We’re always going to have seven to 10 guys competing for varsity, but we want to bring more kids into our running community,” Holcomb said. “We feel that any kid could do cross country, as long as you got running shoes and an attitude to work hard.”
However, where McNary really needs more bodies is on the girls side.
The McNary girls cross country team was the only squad in the MVC who was unable to record a score at districts last season.
Cielo Chavez is the only Celtic returner on the girls side who competed at the district meet last season.
“(Chavez) is an incredible worker. She’s someone you want in the classroom because she’s such a hard worker and in sports, you want her on your team because she has such a positive attitude,” Holcomb said. “She’s someone that I could see having a lot of success this year.”
However, the Celtics girls squad only has seven team members on the roster, so it will be Holcomb’s goal in the coming weeks to try and add additional girls to the team.
“We definitely need to up our numbers. We want to help girls realize that running is fun and it’s something that they can be successful at,” Holcomb said.