Thousands take the 3-Course Challenge

The Daily Astorian

WARRENTON - It's known simply as the 3-Course.

But when you have 102 schools and more than 2,500 runners competing, you can't really have the 3-Course cross country meet without the word Challenge in it somewhere.

So - as always - Seaside coach Neil Branson and the meet organizers for the 3-Course Challenge met the task head-on to stage their annual event, which took place Saturday on the grounds of the Rilea Armed Forces Training Center.

The unmistakable sounds of a 3-Course Challenge - the starter's horn, th e drumming of the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers and the sound and feel of 400-plus runners rumbling across a field - were all there Saturday, giving cross country runners and enthusiasts another day to remember.

Som highlights from the 19th annual Challenge:

• A girl from a small 2A school in Washington finishing first on the Difficult course - for the second year in a row;

• From the what-are-the-odds? department, two brothers from Crater High School in Central Point both won their respective races, coming in first ahead of a combined 836 other runners;

• And a loaded field that included several 2007 state championship teams, including Burlington-Edison (Washington 2A boys champion); Central Catholic (Oregon 6A boys state champion in 2003, '05, '06 and '07); and Crater (two-time defending boys champion at the 5A level, and 2007 girls state champion).

I ran it last year - it's definitely one of my favorite courses, said senior Shannon P orter of Hockinson (Wash.) High School.

For the second year in a row, Porter was the overall winner in the girls' race on the Difficult course, finishing first in a field of 326 runners.

There was definitely more competition this year, stated Porter, who said her strategy was definitely to get ahead before we hit the narrow trails. If you're behind someone when you get there, it's hard to pass. I was behind a lot of guys, and it was hard to pass or go around them.

But she did, and won her race in 26 minutes, 21 seconds.

On the boys' side, two of Saturday's three winners were related, as the Elliott brothers won the races on the Easy and Moderate courses.

Older brother Zach Elliott took first on the Easy course, while junior Josh Elliott finished first on the Moderate course, ahead of 368 other runners.

I just wanted to stay in the lead pack, Josh Elliott said. Once I hit the straight-away, I knew I could outkick (Josh Reiter of Camas ). Once I passed him, I kind of broke his confidence.

Elliott finished in 20:20, to Reiter's 20:22.

Meanwhile, Elliott and Porter both shared the same sentiment on a certain sediment.

The sand is horrible, Elliott said. It's not good - I didn't like it.

Porter added, I hate running on sand. We had a race two days ago at Washougal, and their course is half sand. So I'm sick of sand right now. I just want to run on grass or something.

Locally, Ilwaco's Cameo Ulbricht placed 15th overall (and second among Division 4 runners) on the Easy Course, while Astoria's Tawny Phillips took 33rd (fifth among Division 3 runners), and Seaside freshman Antona Ferry was 56th (fifth among Division 4 runners) in the same race.

Astoria's Kamila Swerdloff was 47th overall (10th among Division 3 runners) on the Moderate Course.

On the boys' side, Ilwaco's Stephen Berglund was 34th overall (fourth among Division 4 runners) on the Easy course; and Nas elle's Nathan Reitz was eighth (Division 5 runners) on the Difficult course.

The Astoria kids did very well, said Fishermen coach John Goodenberger. We had a four-minute improvement with Kyle Overbay. That was impressive. Tawny (Phillips) looks very impressive; Rey (Goicochea) improved on a more difficult course; and we had a freshman (Aaron Miller) step up and run very well. All of those are very positive things.

Astoria returns to action today, in a meet at Tillamook.

We are in the middle of six days where we're working the kids extremely hard, Goodenberger said. We're trying to teach toughness. They will have a very difficult day at Tillamook - it's a horrific course.

Elsewhere, Seaside's Ashley Mayfield - who placed eighth overall on last year's Difficult course - was headed for another top 10 finish in the same race this year.

Mayfield was running fourth when 16 of the top 20 runners took a wrong turn, resulting in a lower finish for some very good runners. Mayfield still finished ninth among Division 4 runners, and will compete today in a meet at Yamhill-Carlton.