Young Oregon runners hoping to make their state competitive with Washington again

Paige Rice of St. Mary's (Portland) is all smiles as she hits the finish line of the Class 6A 1,500 meters at Hayward Field on Saturday, May 26. Robert Rosenberg/ESPNHS


Washington, beware.

There is a new wave of young Oregon distance runners who are tired of having sand kicked in their faces every November at the post-season cross country meet known as BorderClash.

Signs of life are all over on the south side of the Columbia River, where junior and sophomore classes appear to foretell resurgence for Oregon high school running.

Sophomore Paige Rice of St. Mary’s ran 9:49.77 to win the Class 6A 3,000 meters at the state championships in Eugene on Friday and then came back to take the 1,500 on Saturday in 4:31.99. Rice has been invited to compete at the Adidas Dream Mile in New York City on June 9.

And sophomore Geremia (pronounced Jer-uh-ME-uh) Lizier-Zmudzinski of Forest Grove broke the class record for 1,500 meters when he won the 6A boys title in US#7 3:53.75. (Breaking Nathan Mathabane’s 2007 record).

Lizier-Zmudzinski is just a year into training after making a transition from soccer.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “The three top guys in the 1,500 (will return) as well as the 3K (champion). The state used to be one of the best states for high school athletes … but it got kind of bad after (Galen) Rupp left. We had (Elijah) Greer, but that’s about it. So it’s nice to be taking the state back up, because we’ve been getting dominated by Washington for too many years.”

Washington has won the overall team title at the Nike-sponsored BorderClash 11 out of 13 years and in recent years it hasn’t been competitive. In 2008, Washington’s boys swept the first 14 spots.

“Of course it’s a motivator,” Lizier-Zmudzinski said. “Nobody wants to go and have it be called the BorderSmash. Nobody likes that, from Oregon at least.”

Oregon’s girls beat Washington as recently as 2008 but the rise of stars Amy-Eloise Neale, Katie Knight and Maddie Meyers tipped the scales heavily in favor of the Evergreen State in recent years.

Neale, Knight and Meyers set a bar that Oregon’s girls are trying to match.

“Knowing those girls are out there pushed us into training harder,” Rice said. “As a group, we have to so we can be up there (with them).”

In Washington, graduation will take Meyers, Nathan Weitz, Izaic Yorks, Anthony Armstrong, Jacob Smith, Marcus Dickson, Korey Krotzer and others. But the underclassmen moving up – Joe Hardy, Kai Wilmot and Alexa Efraimson to name a few – show that Washington is still on the rise.

But over the weekend there was evidence that Oregon, too, is back on an upward trend.

In addition to Lizier-Zmudzinski, junior Brett Willyard of Seaside had a breakout weekend, winning the 4A titles in 8:38.14 (3,000) and 3:56.20 (1,500).

Juniors Dan Oekerman of Beaverton and Julian Heninger of Lakeridge went 1-2 in the 6A 3,000, side by side in 8:40.16 and 8:40.17.

In Class 5A, Summit junior Eric Alldritt won the 3,000 (8:44.38) and was second in the 1,500.

Last fall’s cross country champions, Travis Neuman (Summit) and Kyle Thompson (Central Catholic) are also due to return.

The Jesuit Twilight 1,500 was the most significant race of the year for the Oregon girls. Behind Efraimson, Rice and South Eugene duo Sara Tsai (freshman) and Erin Clark (junior) all ran sub-4:30.

At the state meet, the top five finishers in the 6A girls 1,500 and four of the top five in the 6A 3,000 were non-seniors.

“We’re having a progression as an Oregon team,” Rice said, again referring to BorderClash. “You see your friends from South Eugene are repping up. And seeing they ran a fast time means that you need to respond with a faster one.”