Preview — Both squads must replace their top runners, with the girls aiming to earn their third consecutive bid to the state finals

Newberg must replace both of its frontrunners — Erin Sanders for the girls and Bailey Peterson for the boys — this fall, but the Tigers should find themselves in the fight to maintain their spots in the Pacific Conference pecking order.

For the girls, that means battling for a third consecutive bid to the 6A state championships after placing runner up in the league the past two seasons.

Newberg will also lose McKaelie Wolfe, a strong leader who often filled the No. 7 spot, but otherwise will have a solid core once again with five of its top six runners returning.

Among them are four seniors — sisters Debora and Rebecca DeLeon, Savannah Stanton and Irena Pia — as well as junior Margaret Halstead, who really came on toward the end of last season.

While Sanders, who placed second in the district and 21st in the state in her first year on the team a year ago and will run for George Fox this fall, was the team’s clear No. 1, no one has yet emerged to take on that role.

“It’s a good solid group coming back,” head coach Bruce Sinkbeil said. “We’ll see what happens as far as somebody being up front, but they should be a tight pack. (A 30-second gap) would be a goal from one to five, later in the year anyway. It kind of hinges upon how fast the first one is.”

Senior Nicole Fawver and junior Kristie McWilliams, both of whom were varsity regulars a year ago, will likely round out the top seven this fall, but Sinkbeil believes freshman Grace Hanna could also develop into a regular contributor.

The Tigers had incredible depth from one to seven a year ago, placing all seven runners in the top 20 at the district meet, but were edged out for the league title by Forest Grove, which put all five of its scoring runners in the top 14.

Sinkbeil said he believes the Vikings could again be Newberg’s stiffest competition in the league, but as always, the landscape among league teams is harder to predict because freshmen are often capable of making an immediate impact. McMinn­ville’s Whitney Rich, for example, will look to repeat as league champion as a sophomore.

“They have good team chemistry right now,” Sinkbeil said. “Team wise, I think our girls should be right up there.”

The boys will once again shoot to finish in the top half of the league, but will have to replace three varsity runners from last year, with Marshall Magill graduating and Kalvi Sokk not returning to the team.

Senior Dan Harper, who was a second-team all-league performer last fall and a state qualifier in the 800 meters during the spring, appears poised to take over the leadership role that Peterson handled so well for the past two seasons.

As a two-time state qualifier, Peterson’s shoes will be hard to fill, but Harper will be buttressed by seniors Mike Miller and Harrison Carsh, as well as junior Wesley Chambers, all of whom have had good summers according to Sinkbeil.

“I think he sees himself up there,” Sinkbeil said of Harper. “I think one of his goals is to run under 17 (minutes) this year. It should be. If he can do that and get a bunch of those other guys to be under 18 (minutes), that’s a fairly solid group.”

Jared Read, one of the top junior varsity performers last year, and his younger brother, freshman Quentin, should challenge to help fill out the varsity lineup, but Sinkbeil believes it’s a wide-open race at this point.

The Tigers will take part in four invitational meets this season, beginning with the Ultimook 5k Saturday in Tillamook, and will open the league season Sept. 18 at home versus McMinnville and Forest Grove.

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