When talking about southern Oregon high school cross country, it all starts in Central Point with the Crater Comets.
Crater head coach Justin Loftus has been guiding the Comets program for two decades now.
“It’s at least 20 years,” Loftus said. “I try not to count any more.”
Loftus is happy that there has been an actual cross country season this year, after dealing with COVID for the past year plus.
“It’s a lot better than last year, since we didn't have a season,” Loftus said. “It was bumpy to start, we had a solid summer -- just getting back together again and getting to run together and getting base work in.”
Just like other programs in southern and central Oregon, Loftus had to deal with air quality issues due to wildfire smoke that affected training.
“Smoke hit for about six weeks and that was hit and miss for what we could do and how we could work,” Loftus said. “I rescheduled our meets and practices about 30 times.”
The Comets boys team has been a consistent threat to take home the trophy at the state meet since 2006, winning eight titles and finishing second three times. This year's squad is undefeated when fielding its full lineup.
Crater has a very young roster, as eight of its top nine runners are underclassmen. Loftus said there are multiple factors that go into being good year in and year out.
“I don’t think there is any one thing,” Loftus said. “I think we do a lot of things right and we support one another and we work hard.”
Loftus said their mantra is “work hard, work harder."
“We’ve always been a team that has tried to outwork other teams,” Loftus said. “I think we have been better over the years, where it’s not just hard work, it’s doing the right work.”
The Comets have a clear leader in junior Tyrone Gorze, the top-ranked boy in 5A. Last spring, Gorze ran super-fast times on the track, 8:23.24 for 3,000 meters and 3:50.90 in the 1,500. Gorze is undefeated in five races this season.
“His season has gone great,” Loftus said. “He’s a competitor, so he always wants more. I think kids at that level, it’s just how they operate.”
“He ran 14:29 solo 5K on the track a week and a half ago and he looked great. I don’t know what you could ask for more.”
Five other Comets are ranked in the top 30 for 5A: freshman Josiah Tostenson (fourth), sophomore Jeffrey Hellman (12th), sophomore Shaun Garnica (26th), senior Tate Broesder (27th) and junior Ryder Hvall (30th).
On the hypothetical projected state meet on Athletic.net, Crater is in a virtual tie with Crescent Valley for the boys team title. Milwaukie junior Logan Law has won four of seven races this season and should be Gorze’s top challenger for the individual title.
The Crater girls are no stranger to picking up hardware at the state meet. They have finished in the top five in the last five state championships.
“It’s a great group of girls,” Loftus said. “We’re small, we are only 10 large and pretty much we’re all underclassmen. It’s going to be a great year ahead.”
The Crater girls have been led by sophomore Lindsay Seibert, freshman Emma West and junior Samantha Payne.
Loftus is getting prepared for the district meet with his girls, as Ashland is ranked higher.
“We have had a nice streak of district titles so that is our focus right now,” Loftus said. “It is going to be a dogfight with Ashland to just get through our district meet.”
The Comets are off until the 5A Midwestern league district meet on Oct. 27, then will have the state meet on Nov. 6.
“We are just getting ready for both of the big meets coming up,” Loftus said. “Nothing special than other teams, time to decompress.”
Loftus was happy that they got some inclement weather at practice on Tuesday to prepare them for possible nasty weather coming up.
“The winds piped up to about 20 miles-per-hour tonight at practice, which I thought was great,” Loftus said. “Because we get to run in conditions that we are not used to. Who knows what the next two or three weeks bring as far as conditions.”