By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– For the second-time ever in North Salem Cross-Country History, a runner has made it to the State Race for four-straight years thanks to Madison Willhoft.
The Blonde Speedster squeaks into the Big Show for one last dance with a tenth-place finish with a time of 19:18.11, beating out West Albany’s Annie Berry for the chance to make the State Streak up to four.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, I’m proving a lot of other seniors wrong, my peers, because a lot of them didn’t believe in my at first. But here it is, I’m coming in and saying hey,” said Willhoft on making it to the State Race for the fourth-time.
Willhoft admitted that this race was not her best as she had to take some mediciation before the race that threw her
“During the race, my head was pounding, it was beating, I kept trying to fall asleep because I took like 1,000mg of antihistamines. I didn’t feel my best,” said Willhoft. “I had a long busy day, so I didn’t even know at that point. My biggest goal was just have our girls team make it to State, so that was my number one priority and I feel like I didn’t really help that.
“So that was my main thing.”
The Lady Vikings finished fourth as a team, 11 points outside of the Top 3 and third-place team in McMinnville; but the pain is there in knowing her goal of having her team racing alongside her at State, Willhoft will not be the only North Salem gal racing at State with teammate Abi Swain making it to the biggest race on the schedule with her sixth-place finish at Bush Park Wednesday.
Willhoft is happy to be sharing this experience with Swain as Swain will be the face of the program in 2018 after Willhoft graduates.
“”I think that Abi taking over is really great because that gives another teammate to show confidence to the rest of the team and to never give up because last year she finished 11th at the District Meet,” said Willhoft. “So she told herself she’s never going to do that again and put it together over the Winter and Summer and really made it happen and so I’m really proud of her.
“She’s showing others that this is what you get, the work you get to put in is your outcome.”
For Swain, the sophomore used the fuel of last year to get her to this point of racing into the State conversation again in 2017 as she acheived her goal of getting to State.
“It’s really exciting, there’s one point in the race where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m eighth’ and I was like, ‘Oh No!’ because I was like ‘I can’t get 11th again’ I was so scared so I pushed ahead,” said Swain on her fifth-place finish. “I feel like today it was less about me making it to State and I was just running for my team.
“My main goal for the season was just to make it to State, so I’m just going to see what I have left.”
And it’ll be a good learning experience for Swain as she takes over the regins from Willhoft for the next two seasons she has left, and what’s good too for the future of the Girls team at North Salem as they make the move to 5A in 2018 is their pipeline from the JV ranks.
With Willhoft, Julissa Escobedo (28th, 21:13.87 at Districts), and Elizabeth Aldama (29th, 21:16.30 at Districts) graduating in June, the drop-off from them to the girls filling their spots will be minimal if at all thanks to a strong Junior Varsity team they’ve in 2017 who will be moving up to Varsity in 2018.
Girls like Dana Romero, Brianna Marquez and Aaliyah Fitzke helped the Vikings take home the JV District Trophy Wednesday nearly two weeks after posting a near perfect score at the George Fox Invitational on October 14 with a 16 result.
“Obviously we’re losing a lot with Madison, we lose two other girls in our Varsity. We lose Julissa Escobedo and Elizabeth Aldama and when those girls joined the team as freshman, all three of them, we finished last that year in conference and we’ve gotten better every year, every year we gotten stronger and we just missed out on State this year,” said Viking Cross Country Head Coach Michael Herrmann.
“But those girls, those JV Girls, are ready to fill those spots and they’re fully capable of running at the Varsity level.”
Consider this, Romero (second-place JV), Marquez (third-place JV) and Fitzke (fourth-place JV) alone with their times that fell between 21:29.64 and 22:18.68. Those times would have been between 37th and 40th in this years field that had 61 Varsity girls runners.
And with those girls having success and confidence coming up to the Varsity-level, Swain is excited for what is to come next season.
“I think next year we’re going to be a really, really, really strong team and I’m really excited to see where we’re going to go,” said Swain on the future.