Forest Grove boys and girls teams are both running fast times with the district meet looming next week

If the Forest Grove cross-country team keeps performing the way it did on Saturday, the Vikings are going to be some tough customers during the championship season.

Highlighted by program milestones from Geremia Lizier-Zmudzinski and Seth Berdahl, Forest Grove posted a pair of top-four team finishes at the George Fox XC Classic, showing that both the boys and girls squads are rounding into top form with the district meet on the horizon next week.

Lizier-Zmudzinski and Berdahl’s performances came in the boys varsity elite race — the highest division offered at the event, staged at Willamette Mission State Park in Brooks — in which the Vikings posted an impressive fourth-place finish among 20 squads. Recording a score of 178 points, the team trailed only Summit of Bend (78), South Eugene (144) and Washington program Snohomish (153).

As he has done all season, Lizier-Zmudzinski paced the Vikings’ efforts. He finished eighth overall out of 141 participants, covering the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 39.5 seconds — breaking his own mark for the fastest-ever boys time in the Vikings program. Summit’s Matthew Maton won the event in a blistering 14:32.7. Just three other Class 6A runners topped Lizier-Zmudzinski, who recorded his fastest time of the season on a full 5K course.

Just as notable was the finish of Berdahl, the team’s second runner, who took 13th in the race and was almost as outstanding as his senior teammate. Berdahl kept working his way up through the field, and in the end, he eclipsed the junior class school best of 15:59 by finishing in 15:53.1. That mark sliced 30 seconds off of his full 5K personal best.

Remarkably, Berdahl was a bit of a question mark entering the race. Nursing a sore back and knee, he decided about 10 minutes before the race started that he was indeed going to run.

“Going into this season, that was obviously the goal, but I never really thought it would happen,” Berdahl said about his time. “I still don’t think that I actually did it, if that makes any sense.”

Murimi Nyamu (31st, 16:18.1) and Archer Morgan (39th, 16:23.4) were solid in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots for Forest Grove. Everett Fellger rounded out the Vikings’ scoring with a 109th-place effort. He was timed in 17:34.5 and was followed closely by Aaron Orr, who was 116th in 17:36.4.

Last year, Orr, a senior, was the sixth runner on the district championship team and ran in the fourth spot at the state meet. He has been sidelined by a foot injury for much of this season, and Saturday’s race was his first 5K of the fall. His added depth could be key for a Forest Grove group that has its collective eyes set on a state trophy bid.

“They’re both moving up and working to close the gap between fourth and fifth, which will be really nice in the state standings,” Berdahl said about Fellger and Orr. “Everyone had a job to do, and for the most part, we did get it done.”

Joey Skeele also ran in the varsity race, taking 126th in 17:51.2.

As for the girls, Forest Grove took third place in the 21-team girls varsity invitational field with 109 points, ending up behind Alaska’s South Anchorage (76) and Bend (83). South Anchorage also had the individual winner in Mogan Lash, who finished in 19:03.5.

Showing considerable depth, all seven Vikings finished in the top half of the sizable field of 167 participants, and the top five Vikings were all inside of the top third of the field.

“We’ve gotten really fast in the top,” senior Julia Khoury said. “Rubi (Vergara-Grindell) broke 20 (minutes), which is really great, and Emilia (Anderson) was four seconds away from breaking 20, which is a lifetime PR for her. And Ellie (Schnorr) and Kimberly (Heesacker) are also running really fast. They’re cutting down their times every meet.

“And on the bottom end, too, some of the freshmen girls are stepping up and running some pretty consistent times, so I think we’re just getting faster every meet and looking good going into districts.”

Vergara-Grindell continued to hold down the top spot for the Lady Vikings. She took seventh overall. Timed in 19:35.4, the junior dipped under 20 minutes for the second time in her high school career. Anderson just missed breaking that time barrier herself, taking 18th place in 20:03.8.

Heesacker and Schnorr provided the Vikings with a solid 3-4 punch, finishing 28th and 29th, respectively. The junior just edged out the freshman at the line — 20:38.7 to 20:38.9. For Schnorr, the time was a personal best by almost a minute.

Another freshman, Elissa Anderson, rounded out the top five for Forest Grove. She was 53rd in 21:25.3. Khoury and fellow senior Corinne Reed also raced for the Vikings. Khoury was 62nd in 21:41.9, and Reed took 71st in 21:53.6.

“We’re really glad to have them on our team,” Khoury said of the freshmen. “They’re a lot of fun to run with, too. They’re going to get stronger as the years go by, too, so it’s exciting to see them doing so well.”

The Vikings are back in action today, when they wrap up their Pacific Conference slate with their first and only home meet of the season, a dual against Century. The meet begins at 4:30 p.m. on the farmland just north of the high school’s baseball/softball complex.

Next week, the boys and girls squads will attempt to win their third consecutive titles at the Pacific Conference district meet, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 24, at Clackamas Community College.

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