SSC harriers ready for district meet

A glance at some of the top cross country times in the state reveals one thing: much of the top talent resides right here in southern Oregon.

Individuals and teams will be out to prove just that in the Southern Sky Conference district meet Saturday at the Expo Fairgrounds beginning at noon. Also locally, the Skyline Conference meet will be Saturday at Henley High School starting at 2:20 p.m.

"It's pretty amazing how many runners are making noise down here in Southern Oregon," Crater coach Justin Loftus said.

Loftus would know. Crater is the projected favorite in both SSC races. The Comets have runners with the top two 5,000-meter times in the conference in the girls and boys divisions. The Crater boys are ranked fifth in the country and both the girls and boys are ranked No. — in the state.

"You don't want to overlook the conference, but we're pretty strong on both sides," Crater's Loftus said. "I've never had two teams this strong going into a conference meet."

The Comets certainly have the runners to earn another state title but first must get through one of the more competitive conferences.

There are eight runners, six on Crater, who sport personal best times that rank in the top 10 in the state.

The Crater boys are led by Zach Elliott, Ryan Santana and Josh Elliott. The three hold the Nos. 3, 5 and 7 best times in the state, respectively. Zach Elliott owns the conference's top 5,000-meter time at 15:51.

The Crater boys could receive competition from Klamath Union, the No. — team in the state, and Ashland, ranked fourth. Matt Miner, who has the sixth best time in the state, and Wilder Schaaf, who defeated Crater's Zach Elliott at the State of Jefferson in Ashland on Oct. 13, lead the Grizzlies. Loftus said Miner and Schaaf can contend for a district title as can KU's Alex Peterson. But Crater's depth will be difficult for Ashland or KU to offset.

"Ashland and Klamath are within a point or two if they run how they've been running," Loftus said. "It just depends on how well their front guys do. We have to show up, too."

The girls race figures to unfold similarly to the boys. Crater is the favorite, with Ashland, ranked No. 6 in the state, and KU likely battling for the second spot. Crater junior Kayleigh Tyerman and senior Riley Swanson are within one second for the conference's top time and own the second and third best times in the state, respectively.

Ashland's top runner is senior Aria Hemphill, who owns the sixth best time in the state. KU junior Chelsea McDonnell recorded the conference's fifth-best 5,000-meter time this season.

In the Skyline Conference meet, Hidden Valley is the favored team in the boys and girls races. The boys are led by Connor Kasler but the Mustangs' sixth fastest runner still has a time that ranks in the conference's top 12.

"They could be a trophy team at state," Phoenix coach Bruce Timmerman said of Hidden Valley's boys.

Timmerman considers his Phoenix boys squad a close second and Henley likely third. Phoenix junior Elliott Jantzer is the class of the conference. He ran 15:41 at the Nike Pre-Nationals, more than a half of a minute faster than the second best 5,000-meter time in the conference and second best in the state. Daniel Engle, Zach Hibbs, Conrad Hulen and Graham Thirkill round out the Pirates squad.

Sophomore Cole Watson is the top individual for Rogue River. He boasts the third-best time in the conference at 16:16 and could earn a bid to state should he be one of the top four finishers among runners whose teams did not finish among the top two and earn automatic berths.

Things are slightly less clear in the girls race.

Hidden Valley is the slight favorite based on times but will likely be challenged from Illinois Valley, Henley and Phoenix.

Henley's Taylor Wallace is the favorite to win. Wallace owns the top mark in the conference at 18:19. Phoenix senior Jordi Hurd is second with a time of 19:39.

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