EUGENE -- Even with senior cross country star E.J. Holland waiting to join the racing season, his Ashland teammates are demonstrating that there could be a special season brewing.
On Saturday at the Northwest Classic at Lane Community College, junior Reed Pryor ran 15:18.8 to win the 5A/6A varsity boys race and senior teammate Arlo Davis was second in 15:34.5. Junior Cam Stein was fifth in 15:56.6.
There was a minute-plus drop-off to the team's fourth and fifth runners, including Stein's freshman brother, Nathan, who moved up from JV.
The Grizzlies placed third with 127 points, behind meet winner Summit (119) and South Eugene (123).
Holland, who won the race last year in 14:59, is in even better shape, said Ashland coach Hans Voskes.
"He's more fit now than he was last year at this time," Voskes said. "You wouldn't believe his (workout) splits. He's the full package. And the other kids feed off of that."
Pryor ran 15:13 a week earlier at the Ash Creek Cross Country Festival in Monmouth and placed third in a highly competitive boys race.
Davis isn't far behind Pryor, and Stein gives the team a fourth guy who can run under 16 minutes for 5,000 meters.
But it takes five scorers to make a complete team, and that is where the emphasis has been placed in September.
"I obviously love our top four, but we've been concentrating on moving our five and six up and to be a full, complete team," Voskes said. "I'm really excited, because I think they will move up to help those (four), who are on fire."
Sophomore Vincent Senn, the probable No. 5, ran 16:31 at Ash Creek but was not available on Saturday.
Ashland's plan is to run the complete lineup at the Warner Pacific XC Classic on Oct. 19 in Portland.
"We're pretty excited," Pryor said. "The past two meets we haven't had everyone together to race, but it looks like we'll have everyone for Warner Pacific up in Portland and have the top-five in full form."
Holland, who is the reigning Nike Cross Northwest regional champion, is aiming to contend for a national title at the end of the season and wants to use September for training purposes only.
Based on a potential Holland-Pryor-Davis-Stein top four, Ashland looks like a potential Nike Cross Nationals qualifier, but it will depend on developing depth at the fifth, sixth and seventh spots to make it happen.
It's that potential that is tantalizing. No team from southern Oregon has ever advanced to nationals, although Crater has come close.
"We have purposely spoken about (Nike Cross Nationals) in a very light-hearted way," Voskes said.
First, Ashland has to get past Crater at the district meet. And then it will be on to state. Ashland hasn't won a state championship title since 1993 when it was led by legendary coach Bob Julian.
In the 5A/6A girls race on Saturday, Summit, ranked No. 1 nationally, scored 24 points for the win. Senior Fiona Max broke a meet record when she ran 17:14.3, which is 17 seconds faster than her winning time in 2018. South Eugene's Madison Elmore, the 6A 1,500 meters champion on the track, finished second in 17:56.5.
Doug Binder is the editor of DyeStat.com