Hans Voskes might not need all of the 500 racing bib numbers he bought for the latest edition of the State of Jefferson Invitational this weekend.
But it’ll be close.
A field that is expected to surpass 20 schools will take part in Ashland High’s lone home cross country meet of the season, with the picturesque yet quirky Lithia Park course once again the site at 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
The race, in its 48th year, spans 3.1 miles, starting on Winburn Way and finishes at the bandshell, the same course design that has been used since 2002.
“Lithia Park is a complex course,” Voskes said. “It’s not necessarily fast with a lot of curves going across bridges and all that, which does not always add up to a super time compared to some other courses.”
Why so complex, you may ask?
“Some of it is that we can’t close it off, so there’s tourists. We try to avoid it, we put up signage, but it’s a public park and it’s a small trail,” Voskes said. “There’s bridges to go across, traffic to be held, so that makes it different.”
Not only are the Grizzlies excited to have their home meet this weekend, but they’re also running quite well at the moment.
The Ashland boys, led by current junior standout EJ Holland, won the boys race a year ago, the start of what was a banner 2017-18 school year worth of running for the then-sophomore.
Holland owns the State of Jefferson course record on the boys’ side, setting it last season with a mark of 15 minutes, 29 seconds.
And it hasn’t taken long for Holland to make headlines this season, setting a personal best of 14:59.20 two weeks ago at the Northwest Classic meet at Lane Community College in Eugene, the same course that hosts the state championships.
“Obviously improvements now are going to come in smaller amounts, but you can’t stop him. He’s running so well and he’s so focused,” Voskes said of Holland. “He’s doing all the right things, he’s staying injury free and I can’t say enough about the kid. The other thing that he does is that he’s being modeled by the kids below him — both male and female on the team. If you had somebody who’s running as well as EJ but it’s ignoring his teammates, that isn’t always a pretty sight. But what he does, he just represents the program well.”
The good thing going for the Ashland boys is they’re showing why they’re currently the top-ranked team in Class 5A.
“They’re right behind EJ helping him out, which is great because it’s so hard to do on your own and he’s running so well,” Voskes said. “Some of it is because of Arlo Davis and Reed Pryor, who still only a sophomore.”
The Ashland girls, currently ranked fifth in 5A, are coming off a seventh-place showing at last Saturday’s Rogue Invitational at Hagler-James Park in Talent.
Ashland senior Hazel Richards, who herself is coming off a strong 2017 season, finished second behind South Medford sophomore Emma Schmerbach.
“The girls, that team is improving every single week,” Voskes said. “On the girls’ side we’ve got Alexa (Hague), Hazel and Sage (Reddish) and it’s a similar situation (like the boys) where they’ve got some really good times and they’re trying to encourage the young runners to move up and contribute.”
The State of Jefferson meet is the unofficial midway point of the Grizzlies’ season, with both district and the state meets not too far off.
Voskes likes what he sees from both of his teams so far this season.
“It’s contagious,” Voskes said in regard to the Grizzlies’ success of late. “That’s what happens in a good program is that it is contagious and everybody gets the virus of success and on it goes.”
And when it comes to running at Lithia Park this weekend, not only do the Grizzlies want to continue to build toward late-October and early-November, but also put on a good show in the process.
“The most important part of this is putting on a class meet,” Voskes said. “There are teams that travel from Northern California and then some local teams, so we want to make sure we represent the school well. The organization is really the most important, and we have a lot of parents helping out. A lot of community members have put in a lot of time and effort. It’s a large meet.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.