Ashland junior distance standout EJ Holland had designs on breaking a hallowed record at the Class 5A boys cross country championships Saturday at Lane Community College. He realized along the way it wasn’t to be, so he settled for another goal.
A state championship.
“Oh, it’s great,” he said of his first cross country crown, and his third overall title counting track. “That’s always the goal. You can’t ever be disappointed with that. The record was just going to try to be the cherry on top of it. Things don’t always work your way.”
Holland, who was runner-up a year ago to Crater’s Andy Monroe, said before the race he wanted to break Galen Rupp’s junior class record of 14 minutes, 56 seconds set in 2002 over the 5,000-meter course.
A lofty endeavor, to be sure, given Rupp’s stature as one of America’s greatest runners.
But with sub-15-minute races in three of his five meets entering state, including one at Lane, it didn’t smack of pie-in-the-sky stuff.
Ultimately, however, Holland discovered with about a mile to go he didn’t have enough in the tank and cruised in. Holland’s winning time was 15:30, well ahead of Crater’s Jantz Tostenson, who pushed the pace early, fell back, then came on strong for second in 15:47.
Ahmed Ibrahim of Parkrose was third in 15:55, and Ashland’s Arlo Davis was fourth in 15:59.
Crater won its third straight team championship with 58 points, followed by Crook County (120) and Ashland (136).
Holland admitted there was “maybe a little” pressure to live up to his pre-race proclamation.
“You know,” he said, “I really wanted to do it, and I felt I could. I got to 2 miles and it just wasn’t gonna be there; not the day. I wasn’t too disappointed or anything. It was a goal. Sometimes you don’t reach your goals.”
The race began with Holland and Tostenson rushing to the front of the pack and creating a fast pace.
Tostenson realized about a half-mile in that his legs weren’t in the mood to cooperate.
“I was pretty confident at the beginning I could hang with him (Holland),” said the Comet senior. “And even if I didn’t get him at the end, I was hoping for a good time. But after the first 800, my legs just didn’t want to go. I thought, oh, this is not looking good.”
As Tostenson faded, Holland remained strong and completed the first mile in 4:32, which was in line with his master plan.
But in the next mile, part of which is a tour around ponds, “I felt a little zapped,” he said.
“I didn’t know what it was,” said Holland, “and I kind of realized when I got to Mile 2, that’s (Rupp’s record) not going to happen. … I was off pace already, so I just kind of cruised in.”
The aggressive start by Tostenson likely hurt his chances, said Holland, who usually is the one to make the first move and set the pace.
“I think I started going a little too fast,” said Holland, “and the adrenaline pushed me a little too hard. I think it maybe cost me a little bit of time.”
One thing Holland didn’t have to endure was a photo finish similar to last year, when he and Monroe crashed to the ground at the finish line, each recording a time of 15:19 before Monroe was awarded the win.
On the bus ride here Saturday, Holland flipped through a photo gallery on his phone and came across a picture of it.
“I was like, you know what, I really hope it doesn’t come out like that again today,” he said.
Holland wasn’t alone in having to reshape strategy.
Tostenson had fallen behind Ibrahim and Davis, something that wasn’t in his plans. He jettisoned the notion of catching Holland and focused on staying within striking distance of the other two.
With 600 meters to go, he said, “If I’m going to commit, I have to go now if I want to get second. So I caught them just before getting on the track and went by them. I opened up on the track with 300 to go and secured second overall.”
The top 10 placers in each race earn invitations to Nike BorderClash in two weeks in Beaverton. The competition is for Oregon and Washington runners.
Regional and possible national competition follows.
Holland, who said he has been contacted by a lot of college coaches but won’t make a decision on where he’ll go until next year, isn’t giving up on his quest to go low.
Of the postseason meets, he said, “Maybe there’s another sub-15 somewhere in there.”
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org