This past fall, the Summit High School Girls Cross Country team did something never-before accomplished in Oregon — 15 straight state championships. And they continued that dominance despite fielding a young team.
“Each year it gets more and more challenging. I think that this group of girls had more pressure on their shoulders than maybe any team before them,” said coach Kari Strang.
When you’ve accomplished it all, what’s left?
“As somebody said when I took on the role that, ‘Well, gosh, there’s nowhere to go but down,'” said Strang.
Winning one state title is a great accomplishment. Winning five starts to become a dynasty. Ten straight is a decade of dominance. But 15 consecutive Oregon High School titles never been done before until now.
“We all were really building towards that the whole season and really just trying to win state was the goal. And we had that just in our sights the whole time and just like being able to come together and accomplish that just felt so good,” said sophomore Eva Dicharry.
On the way to 15 straight, the team hit a high point in 2018. They won nationals. Iona Max was on that 2018 team. She now runs for Princeton, but still remembers the grueling years at Summit.
“It was the sort of thing where we just showed up to practice every day and expect to get our asses kicked. And and that kind of created the fire,” Max said.
With these titles, the team has rewritten the history books. But it hasn’t stopped there. Strang, who’s been there for four years, says that under her helm, the titles are a focus but not the end goal.
“I would say it’s actually secondary. I mean, we really focus on trying to develop these interactions and experiences. And in talking to the girls here, it’s really about the team and about the bond. And yes, it’s about the win. And yes, it’s about having great races, but it’s really about the journey and that journey that they get to have together,” Strang said.
That philosophy also claiming its own records as the reign continues. Coming into this past season, Summit had one of the youngest teams ever. The vast majority of the girls were freshmen and sophomores.
“We get a lot of odds against us, saying that maybe we won’t make it this year and maybe we’re not strong enough this year because we are such a young team. But that’s not really what it’s about, because we’re all together and we know we can do hard things,” said sophomore Kersie Knoll.
But sometimes, a bit of pressure makes diamonds.
“I think that pressure was a huge thing for us, but we learned to overall embrace it and learn that pressure is really beneficial and to use it not to scare us, but to motivate us in the end,” said sophomore Taylin Bowen.
“Using the pressure as support to help us go as far as we can go,” said sophomore Sophie Cappozzi.
“The effort and the courage and the the bravery it takes, I think, for these young ladies to put themselves out there with all that pressure and willingly accept it and put all of themselves out there, not only for themselves, but for each other. It’s just something that should always be respected and appreciated,” Strang said.
No other sport nor team at any level in Oregon has won 15 consecutive titles.
“A huge moment for us all. There was a lot of crying and just overall excitement,” Bowen said.
“We almost never talked about state at practice,” Strang said. “It was something that they understood and that they had decided as a group that they wanted to have as a goal. But they then just worked together instead of worrying about … trying to be better. Then they helped to lift each other up and to support each other to achieve that goal, which is pretty unique and it was really awesome to witness.”
A coalition of so many previous athletes and coaches setting the stage, tone and standards.
It feels like just a whole big family. I know all the girls. We all do,” Bowen said.
“Just having the strength of so many runners behind us. Just knowing how they’ve accomplished it so we can, too. It just felt really special,” said Dicharry.
“At the day of state, all the girls were texting us ‘good luck’ and it was really cool,” said sophomore Skye Knox.
After each title pops the same question. Will the diamonds continue to shine, though?
“We’re confident and we’ll be working towards that goal. I think that it will always continue to be something that cannot be assumed. It has to be earned. Will definitely be trying for success as well,” Strang said.
:And I know that the next four years are taken care of because they’ve all got it. After that, I’m sure they got it, but I don’t know them yet,” said senior Ainslie Knox.
“Yeah, I think we’re all strong enough that any girls that come and join us are also going to adapt to that,” Knoll said.
While things like hard work and a focus on nutrition and sleep give them an edge over the other teams, it’s the bonds created that are the moving force for so much success.
“I hope that just being here and being part of this team lasts for people even when I’m gone. After I’m done and after I graduated, I hope the people behind me just kind of get inspired to keep this title going. So I think it’ll go for a very long time,” said freshman Leighton Allen.