Ella Thorsett turned in a blistering time to earn the Outlaws first individual state title in cross country.photo by Charlie Kanzig
Ella Thorsett turned in a blistering time to earn the Outlaws first individual state title in cross country.photo by Charlie Kanzig
The OSAA Cross Country State Championships turned out to be historic for Sisters High School runners Ella Thorsett and John Peckham — and for the boys’ team.

Before the day was done the Outlaws had two individual champions and a second-place team trophy for the boys team.

No Outlaws runner had ever claimed the individual title in cross-country, but freshman Ella Thorsett changed that with a record-breaking run in a blistering time of 17:43.

About an hour later, John Peckham became the second Outlaw to complete the feat.

“Amazing,” said Coach Josh Nordell. “We knew it could happen that we end up with two individual champions, but the way they did it was truly amazing.”

Peckham entered the meet as the favorite, but Thorsett’s dominant win came as more of a surprise. Junction City’s Anika Thompson came into the meet ranked first and is known to have a tendency to push the pace and run from the front in the hopes of breaking the rest of the field. Thorsett owned the second best time among 4A runners and figured to be among the lead pack, but the pack never materialized. Instead it was Thorsett and Thompson running together virtually from the gun with no other challengers.

Thorsett said, “Going into the race, I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. I expected there to be a lead pack of about four to five people. My plan was to stay with the front pack and then around the two-mile mark make a big move, hopefully big enough to pull away,” she explained. “I was definitely surprised when it became a two-man race so close to the start, but I tried not to panic. I knew that Anika went out fast, and the only way I would be able to be there at the finish was to be there at the start.”

Her plan worked, and by the two-mile mark Thorsett began to pull away from Thompson and it wasn’t long before she began to realize she might win.

“Going around the ponds in the last mile, part of me was pretty sure that I was going to win. I was really trying to not get over-confident since we still had a while to go, and I knew if I let myself think I had already won, I might forget that I still had to push the pace. I really wasn’t sure about the finish until I got to the track.”

She definitely did not let up and ultimately crossed the line a full twenty-two seconds ahead of Thompson, who finished in 18:05.

Thorsett’s time established a new state meet record for 4A runners, which was formerly held by Taylor Wallace of Henley in 18:13. The state meet course was altered this year and produced a number of record-breaking times for many of the classifications.

A day after her win Thorsett said she sees her season as a steppingstone for her future.

“I am overjoyed with how the results turned out, but I know this is just the beginning.”

She also had kind words for her teammates and coaches. Thorsett said, “Every person on our team has contributed to this season. My coaches are great, and there is no way I would be where I am without them. It’s been an awesome experience, one I will never forget.”

Kate Bowen, a senior, who finished seventh in last year’s state meet, completed her cross-country career for the Outlaws in fifteenth place in 19:39.

For Peckham, the goal of winning had been months in the making. Through summer miles and core strength work, Peckham built on an already strong foundation. He finished fifteenth at state last year as a sophomore, which was not as high as he expected, but roared back during track season to take fifth at state in the 3,000 meters behind three seniors and one junior, making his expectations for the cross-country season reasonable.

“I have been training very hard since the start of summer with the state meet in my mind,” he said. “Since June, my goal has been to win the state meet and do everything I could to benefit my team. I dedicated a lot of time to running, and I am super happy that I did.”

Like Thorsett, Peckham took charge of the race in the final mile and pulled away from Baker’s Kale Cassidy and Will Thorsett to win in a personal best time of 15:48. Cassidy crossed the line in 15:57 and Thorsett came through in 16:00, also a personal best.

Peckham said, “The race went exactly how I pictured it would. Everyone who had a chance was up front, which was a lot of guys this year. From where I took the lead at the two-mile mark to the finish I kept telling myself that the race was not over yet and that I had to keep going as hard as possible. Winning was a dream come true, especially with my whole team there and us getting the second-place trophy.”

Peckham’s success was most certainly helped by having a training partner like fellow junior Will Thorsett, as well as his other teammates.

“For those top two to finish 1-3 is a testament to their friendship, work ethic, and desire,” said Nordell. “The whole boys varsity team, in fact, was all-in this season and the results show that.”

After beating Philomath by four points at District a week earlier, the Warriors turned the tables and nipped Sisters by just 5 points to win the team title 65-70. The other two trophies went to Klamath Union (82) and Marist (98).

The highest previous team finish for a boys team in school history had been third.

“It could easily have gone the other way,” said Nordell. “Our two teams are just so evenly matched it’s crazy.”

After Peckham and Thorsett, senior Josh Liddell (19th) and junior Ethan Hosang (22nd) came through the finish chute with personal records of 16:27 and 16:33 respectively. Junior Vicente Rebolledo completed the scoring in 41st place with a time of 17:07.

Sam May (17:36) and Max Palanuk (17:47) finished 56th and 61st as the sixth and seventh finishers for the Outlaws.

Philomath’s team ran in a tight-knit pack and finished with all seven runners within 38 seconds of one another and all seven ahead of the Outlaws’ fifth scorer.

“Our boys did all they could to win,” said Nordell.

The cross-country season could be another barn-burner in 2020 as Sisters returns six of their top seven runners and Philomath brings back five of seven and 10 of their top 12.

Summing up the state meet experience, Coach Nordell said, “I am so proud of these kids and our coaching staff. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this day.”

Assistant coaches this season included Rima Givot, Dennis Dempsey, Sarah Thorsett, and Charlie Kanzig.