By Katy Nesbitt
For Wallowa Valley Online
JOSEPH – Following the Wallowa County cross country team’s second place finish at the state meet this fall the team’s top runner, Freshman Henry Coughlan, was invited to race with the fastest high school runners from around the Northwest and the country.
Following the Oregon State Cross Country Meet in Eugene Nov. 3 Coughlan was asked to join a team of 13 and 14 year-old Oregon boys to race at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics state-qualifying meet at Corban University in Salem Nov. 10.
Coughlan placed fourth and his team, Timberhill, handily won the race with a score of 17 points. A perfect score in cross-country is 15.
“The team I was on, we pack-ran that first meet. We wanted to show how dominant we were,” Coughlan said.
The following week Coughlan ran at the 20th Border Clash race pitting the best Oregon high school runners against Washington’s best at the Nike campus in Beaverton. Coughlan was chosen to represent Oregon because of his second place individual finish in the 3A state cross-country meet.
“I thought it was crazy to even be there,” Coughlan said. I wasn’t expecting anything high of myself – it was icing on the cake to even qualify as a freshman.”
Coughlan said he did much better than he expected and finished 54th of the 77 runners.
“The first bit was really hard, I didn’t realize how fast they went out, but the second and third mile I was making up ground on the other kids,” Coughlan said.
The following week Coughlan was racing as a team member again. He said the Wallowa County cross country coach Dan Moody had him run his workouts outside, finding places that weren’t too icy. For interval training he said he ran on the Joseph airport runway.
The outdoor training paid off; conditions in Reno Dec. 8 were typical for a winter cross-country race.
Coughlan said. “The first 500 meters was uphill and snowy, so that was rough and my start was pretty bad – I was 50th through the first half mile.”
After that slippery start Coughlan said he had a lot of ground to make up the first mile to mile and a half.
Coughlan was 13th overall, half a second behind teammate Benjamin Collins. Teammates Brody Bushnell finished 15th, Al Garcia-Silver finished 18th with Blake Byer finishing in 19th place. Running as a pack paid off for the Timberhill team once again.
Now it’s basketball season and Coughlan said that’s where his focus will be until track season starts in March. He said he will most likely be racing the 1,500 and 3,000-meter distances, but he prefers cross-country racing.
“I really like the 5k-distance. When every kid is starting to hurt it’s your time to move. Track distances are so short,” Coughlan said.
Working with two seasoned coaches, Moody for cross-country and John Roberts for track, he has had a lot of sage advice and encouragement. Coughlan said he prefers cross-country, a sport that is a lot about finding out who you are as a runner and what traits you can develop.
“Track is a lot more pressure at the starting line. Everyone is so serious. In cross-country, even though it’s a competition, you feel like you can just run,” Coughlan said.
As the frontrunner of a varsity team stacked with freshmen – Baden Menton, Zac Knapp, Ian Goodrich and Reese Nelson, Coughlan said what he likes best about the cross-country team is they have plenty of time to improve – and they have big goals, like winning state the next three years.
“It will take all of us coming together more as a team and running our best times,” Coughlan said.