Cubs XC climbs higher

Maybe it was the Tsunami Runs — a run where Newport runners dip their toe in the ocean then charge through Agate Beach, through Big Creek Park, up and down Newport Heights to Yaquina Heights, through Bay Road and finally a run up John Moore Drive — that prepared the Newport cross country team for the state meet.

Or maybe it’s the Whoopty Doo runs where the Cubs run up and down the hills that feed into the bayfront that did it.

“The offseason stuff is all hills,” said head coach Tom Swinford.

Whatever it was, whenever a hill was on the horizon, the Cubs were ready for the climb. At the 4A state championships, there were plenty of chances to sprint up the hill.

“It was the hardest race because of the hills,” said sophomore Kolby Spink. “If you don’t look them up and you don’t sprint a little and maintain your pace, there is no way you can do this, it would be impossible if you don’t look up those hills. They take up a lot of energy.”

“Some people can only run flat,” said senior Leo Johns, who finished fifth with a time of 16:20. “A big part of cross country is the terrain and being able to take anything on.”

The training paid off. The Newport cross country team climbed to heights never before reached at the state meet, finishing in second place.

“I think it was the best race that we’ve had,” Johns said. “I think we were the strongest we’ve been all season.”

First to cross the finish line for the Cubs was Spink. With championship aspirations entering the season, Spink finished five seconds behind the winner but proved that last season’s surprise seventh-place finish in his sophomore campaign was no fluke.

After admittedly running a little tight the week earlier at the district meet, Spink ran relaxed as he raced through the course at state. 

When he hit the track for the final stretch, Spink was in second place. He was passed by Stayton’s Matthew Frazeur on the final 300 meters, it looked as though Spink would be passed by Tillamook’s Carter Kunert. But Spinks just got his foot across the finish line before him to finish in third.

The race was so close that its officials originally handed Spink a fourth-place card, which would eventually be overturned.

“I thought I kicked him out at the end,” Spink said. “They gave me a four and I was like, I don’t think so, I think I got him at the end.”

Five seconds behind Spink was Johns, who after a two-year hiatus from cross country went stride for stride with the top group and finished fifth, one place higher than he finished at districts.

In his final cross country race of his high school career, Johns delivered his best performance.

“He’s been struggling with his stamina all season. He’s been kinda fading as we came into the finish of the season,” Swinford said. “But it finally all came together for him today when it counts.”

By finishing in the top-five, both Spinks and Johns will compete in the Nike Border Clash, where the top runners from Oregon compete against the top runners from Washington. It’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by Newport.

“It was the hardest competition we’ve faced by far,” Johns said. “We stayed up with the top group the whole time we were both fighting. We knew we had a chance, we stayed positive.”

Tristan Scarborough was the next to cross the line, finishing 24th with a time of 17:14. Then came Caden Shanks, finishing 30th with 17:25, followed by freshman James Lackey finishing 40th in 17:44. Noah Goodwin-Rice cracked the top-50 with a time of 18:03 and freshman Sam Laurel rounded out the group, finishing 60th with a time of 18:12.

“Everyone on this team is a racer,” Swinford said. “I’ve never had a team that worked this hard to get to this level — to train during the summer and then come in and train hard.”

Last year, when Newport finished third at state it came as a bit of a surprise. The team just barely qualified for the state meet but found itself on the podium when all was said and done. This year however, expectations were high for the Cubs, who returned four of the six state runners from the previous year while adding Johns, a state placer in the 1,500 meters in track.

Knowing that beating Marist Catholic, the eventual state champs, was a long shot, second place was up for grabs if the team performed. The Cubs edged out Tillamook by three points. It was so close that Tillamook’s head coach came up to Swinford following the race, claiming that he thought his team would win. He was wrong.

“I’ve never had a team that worked this hard to get to this level,” Swinford said.


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