By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.– It’s been since Kara Stair in 2007 that a Santiam Wolverine has made it to the State Cross Country Meet. Her 20:52 time was good enough for 23rd-place in the 3A/2A/1A State Race. What’s more interesting, up until this past weekend, Stair was the only Santiam runner to have qualified for the State Meet this millennium.
Now, 15 years later, the Wolverines are back in the State Cross Country Meet thanks to a sixth-place finish at the 3A/2A/1A Special District 2 finish, Averie Peterson has snapped the drought and will be heading to Lane Community College this Saturday to compete amongst the States Best.
Described as a natural athlete by first-year Head Coach Greg Grenbemer, Peterson entered the District Race ranked tenth. And being the only Santiam runner, she had to qualify individually, meaning a Top-Seven Finish to do so in a sea of teams like Kennedy, Central Linn and Santiam Christian around her. Entering the meet, Peterson got the required three meets in. Four to be exact as she’s a two-sport athlete playing Volleyball at Santiam, but here’s where that natural athleticism came in.
On the course, Peterson points to music to help her focus in her head. Whenever she feels herself slow in pace, she refocuses with a song and keeps going. Pacing herself with some familiar runners that seemed to work by the end of the race as Peterson PR’d in the process at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon. Her 20:50.60 time is almost two seconds faster than Stair’s time at the State Meet 15 years ago.
“That meet drives me nuts because their course, you run the same thing twice, so just getting through the first part and thinking, ‘oh my gosh I have to do that again’, it’s terrible but it’s always fun when you know some of the runners so you’re able to track yourself off of them. Like, ‘oh they’re right there, I can stay right here’ or ‘they’re way up there, I got to catch up’,” Peterson described the District race. “(The race) shows me that…I never knew that I’d be good with Cross Country. I’ve always done it like, ‘hey I get to stay in shape’ and now that I’m making it to State, it’s really eye-opening. Like maybe put in a little more work and see what I can improve on myself.”
Being at the big stage like State isn’t new for Peterson, who went to the Track and Field State Meet at Hayward Field in the 400-meter and 800-meters and placed fifth and second respectively, but admits there’s a difference as she now prepares for a whole new kind of State Monster in the Cross Country-realm.
“It’s a lot different because you don’t have as much as you do in Cross Country, you’re all going to be right there together and it’s going to be a lot of people. A lot of emotions are coming out and just trying to figure out what I need to do to calm down and run like I can run,” Peterson describes.
Wednesday’s practice in the early November chill in the hills East of Salem was a short one for Peterson as she went off towards the scoreboard side of the track. Going up some steps to the neighborhood that overlooks the football stadium right next to Santiam Elementary School Peterson went to work as the State Meet is right on the horizon. The race itself will be at 10am at Lane Community College in Eugene for the 3A/2A/1A Classification Saturday morning.
Nerves will be there sure, so will the emotions, but one thing is for sure. Peterson is just taking it all in knowing that she’s the first Santiam runner to make it to the Big Race in 15 years.
“Honestly I wasn’t expecting to make it to State. But I was really hoping, I was like ‘you need to go all out at this meet’ (at Districts), so when I got to running, I was just thinking of what my coaches told me and stuff. Even the littlest length in your stride pushes you a lot further than you think. And it’s just going to be a lot of fun going to State and it’ll be a fun experience too,” Peterson said.