By Arwyn Rice
Pilot staff writer
When most coaches find that their top athletes are sophomores, they go into a rebuilding mode.
But not if those sophomores are Brookings-Harbor High School athletes Ally Manley and Gage Northrup.
The speedy sophomores each figure to challenge for state titles this year.
Manley placed fifth in the state last year and represented Oregon in the Nike Border Clash against youths from Washington.
Manley also placed third in state in track and is a standout for the Bruins' soccer team.
Manley owns the Brookings course record at 19:01 and intends to improve her time.
"I want to break 19 minutes," Manley said.
Gage Northrup was the second fastest freshman in the state last year and plans to improve on that success.
One of Northrup's favorite courses is "Puke Hill" at Pacific High School.
"I like smoking people on hills," Northrup said. "But I also like getting my breath back."
The team isn't suffering for a lack of talented upperclassmen either, with returning lettermen Linden Loren and Kevin Sthen, both of whom also play varsity soccer.
Getting athletes out for cross country is a challenge, and so far this year the team only has eight members, the smallest team Terry Axel has coached in his 11 years at Brookings-Harbor High School.
"We're fighting for numbers," Axel said. "Kids think it's a brutal sport. One of the sayings we have is, our sport is your sport's punishment'."
Despite the quality of runners, the Bruin cross country team suffers a numbers problem. With only eight runners out for the team, the team comes dangerously close to not being able to field a full team for competition.
Several of the team's runners are multi-sport athletes and have to choose between sports when schedules conflict. Cross country rules require a minimum of five runners for a team to score.
Several Bruin students have expressed interest in the team but haven't shown up for practices. Axel hopes that with school in session more students will begin running with the team.
"Cross country isn't a parent-friendly sport," said Axel. "The better your kid is the less you get to see them perform."
Not only does the sport take place mostly out of sight of the spectators, but there is only one "home game" each year. Dedicated parents drive hundreds of miles to see their athletes run, he said.
Bruin runners' first meet will be on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Ben Creek Invitational at Gold Beach.