BANDON — Somewhere in the middle of the two refrigerators, the box of used cleats, some hibernating high jump mats and an abandoned barbecue sits the Bandon cross country team.
This space that looks like the leftovers of an unsuccessful garage sale also includes a touch of team flair with pictures hanging from the season, various inspirational running quotes taped up on the wall and some white boards that may be used to discuss race tactics or announce lineups but are currently in use to go over geometric proofs.
When the Tigers are not logging miles across town, they can be found in this makeshift team room. Located in the field house next to the track this is their home away from home. Gathering in plastic lawn chairs, the kind that are bought in bulk for family summer cookouts, are the 26 runners on the team (also known as 12% of the school).
This island of misfit athletic equipment and seemingly whatever else is laying around, has also collected a group of talented runners. Past the tattered football pylons and scattered backpacks on the ground, sits one of the best cross country teams in the 2A classification. Looking to continue a recent run of success that has seen the team finish first, second, third, fifth and sixth in state over the last five seasons is the Bandon varsity boys team.
Currently ranked second in state, it is not the team’s top runners — seniors Isaac Cutler and Aero Franklin — who will ultimately determine the success of the team, but rather the ragtag group of runners occupying spots three through seven. Not your typical state-caliber runners, this squad features someone who has cut off five minutes from his best time in the last year, a runner who initially had to be bribed to join the team and a pair of basketball-minded twins.
But regardless of how they came to the sport, this team is looking to finish the season with the school’s second cross country state championship.
Bandon’s head coach Brent Hutton has high hopes for his team’s top duo of Cutler and Franklin. With the pair of seniors a minute faster than their closely grouped teammates, these two have a chance to be near the front of the pack at the State Championship race that will take place at Lane Community College on November 9.
“Isaac has a shot at fourth place (at state). But him being 1, 2, 3 is — there’s some pretty elite guys up there that he has to make a jump to get to their level. He’s top-10 no problem,” said an excited Hutton who, like his runners, has aspirations beyond the district meet. “Aero, I believe, will be top-10 and make the podium. And if you can get two people on the podium, it’s a great start. But this (season) is about more.”
This nebulous more is about this group having the chance to not just have a couple good individuals but rather having a real shot at securing a state title. For the highly-touted Tigers to catapult into first place, it is all about the rest of this varsity team.
Filling out the varsity lineup, Bandon has five runners competing for three point-scoring positions. And that is exactly what the Hutton wants: runners constantly battling against each other.
“I always pit runners against runners on my team. I tell them, this is to make you faster, it’s not to make you enemies. If everyday our competition is here everyday, it will make you sharper,” said Hutton.
The goal with these five runners — senior Nathan Vineyard, sophomore Charlie Ells, junior Luke Brown and sophomores Trevor and Hunter Angove — is for them to do what is called pack running. The theory goes that if they stay bunched together as a unit and are pulling the last scoring runner on the team forward, the team will record a better score.
“The faster you can get those two miles behind you before you realize you are in pain, the better you are. So the farther you can get down the course before it gets serious, I think the better off it is,” said Hutton. “And the nice part about that pack running is, somebody in that pack is going to have a good day. So they’ll drag those people that aren’t having a good day. They’ll realize, ‘Oh, I got to keep up.’”
In the team’s second race of the season it was perfectly executed as runners three through seven finished within eight seconds of each other. While that is what the team is shooting for, what made it even more of a success was that four of those five runners recorded personal bests on the day. This recipe for a state title, will require more of the same from this pack of Tigers.
Leading this group with the third fastest time on the team — just two seconds ahead of two of his teammates — is Vineyard who has fast-tracked his way from JV to varsity. After focusing on football and baseball, Vineyard decided to come out for cross country as a junior last season. As the year went along he began to cut down from his pedestrian time of 23:03. He shaved a minute off and then another. And then another. And then, for good measure, another.
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Throughout the season he improved his time by over four minutes and forced his way onto the varsity team where he recorded a season best time of 18:48 at the state meet. To get to that point, Vineyard credited competing against his teammates at every practice.
“When you’re in that group with all those other guys, you just don’t want to be the guy that drops back and lets the team down. Because you want to do your best for everybody else there and you want to stick with them no matter how hard it hurts,” he said. “Having someone to run with, makes any race easier.”
It was the same sentiment from Ells, the fourth runner on the team.
“So much easier to improve and to push yourself and hold yourself accountable because you’re holding everyone else accountable as well,” he said. For Ells, a sophomore, he has had a more linear journey to varsity. He started running cross country in sixth grade and has been steadily improving each year.
A fellow former middle school cross country runner is the team’s current fifth runner Luke Brown. Brown started in sixth grade and, after one season, had no desire to keep running. Stepping away from the sport he was pulled back in, or maybe forcibly pushed, once he got to high school.
“My parents kind of convinced me to do it my freshman year. ‘We’ll do this, we’ll buy you a hat, we’ll give you 100 bucks.’ Begging me to go do cross country and I was like alright whatever and I did it,” said Brown.
His freshman season saw a best time of 20:29 and after a successful senior class departed, he was called on to step up during his sophomore season. He didn’t disappoint as he recorded a near two-minute personal record on the year with a time of 18:31. Early in this season, he has already eclipsed that mark with a time of 18:29.
Regardless of how he got to the team, Brown now even enjoys running, especially racing as a unit with his teammates.
“When we’re in the pack, I’m thinking about dragging my teammates, pushing them as hard as I can push them and them helping me, too. And we’re not letting go of each other and pushing to the full potential,” said Brown.
Rounding out the top-seven runners are Trevor and Hunter Angove. The sophomore twins joined the team to get in shape for basketball season and ended up stumbling onto the varsity team. What Hutton describes as the wildcards of the team, they are both now in a position to help continue to push the team. Even if running isn’t their main focus.
“Well, I don’t really like it,” said an honest Trevor Angove. “I just do it to get in shape for basketball.” While brought to the team by basketball, he has embraced this new squad. “I’m just focusing on getting in shape, getting out to the best of my abilities. Do the best for my team.”
The Tigers actually go beyond seven deep, with three others — freshmen Patton Clark and Owen Brown and sophomore Ansen Converse — ready to pop up into the varsity lineup if there are injuries or other opportunities arise. During Saturday's Woahink Lake Invitational, Clark got just that chance when one of the Angove twins didn't race because of an injury and he finished third among the varsity runners for the team.
With different paths to the sport of cross country, from runner one to runner seven, the goal of this season is abundantly clear. The team is chasing another state title. With stiff competition from top-ranked and an always dominant Union High School, the road to first will be challenging for Bandon.
But the Tigers are going to stay the course and do what they do best: compete against each other and run together.
“It’s like lots of fun to be there but there’s pressure, too, because we’ve got younger guys that are starting to run faster, too, and so we don’t want them beating us so we need to go faster,” said Luke Brown. “We’ve got people all around us and we need to push ourselves because we’re (ranked) like second right now or something. And we don’t want to get second, we want to win.”