Cross country running has long been seen as an individual sport. Like tennis, wrestling, track and field, golf or swimming, entire teams don’t necessarily qualify for postseason play like football, baseball or basketball. A school can send just one athlete to state if that’s all that makes the cut. Hermiston’s cross country runners, however, buck the trend and discard any notion the sport is about one individual performance.

After talking with several of the runners from both the boys’ and girls’ team, it’s apparent they aren’t out there for themselves; they are out there for the person running next to them. In an era of sports that’s all about “me,” so to speak, this team is more about “us.”

With the boys’ team, this year has solely been about the greater good. Whenever a group of talented runners wear the same color jersey, everything becomes a competition with each other. Practices turn into meets, essentially. It would be like if a basketball team was 10-12 players deep and scrimmaged every day. Practicing against top-notch talent will make an athlete not only better physically, but mentally as well. And at the state meet, where the elite runners are right around the same time, knowing when to push the pace and kick to the finish is extremely important.

Every member of the boys’ team, which achieved a perfect score at the conference meet last Saturday, will say that teammates are the reason for success. You don’t find that a lot in a sport that’s stressed to be individualized.

“When you’ve got five guys, on any given day, that can mix it up with the No. 1 guy, that’s what keeps us going,” senior Andrew Valdez said. Valdez placed 22nd in last year’s state meet and was the second Bulldog to cross the finish line. “That’s how we do what we do. We pass each other in the race and give encouragement, but it’s still competitive.”

The boys are ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, and with good reason. Four of the runners from last year’s fourth-place team are back, plus a future superstar in freshman Alejandro Cisneros. I don’t see a team that will be able to hang with them this year, or next year, or even two years down the road.

The girls’ team, which qualified for the state meet by finishing second at the conference meet, is really starting to blossom into a 5A power.

Currently ranked No. 9 in Class 5A, according to the latest coaches’ poll, the Bulldogs are somewhat still under the radar.

But like the boys’ team, the girls are loaded with young talent. Freshman Katie Markwick finished second in the conference meet, while sophomore Maggie Coleman ran her second race of the year at the CRC meet, placing seventh. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they may not have the services of Coleman. The word is she’ll travel with the soccer team to its playoff game in Hillsboro against Liberty at 4 p.m. today.

With junior Jordyn Rohrman and another freshman, Kelli Niederwerfer, this team should place in the top-10 at this meet. As for next year, I don’t think a state championship is too far-fetched.

Maryanna Jimenez and Abby Johnston will get a shot at the state meet after posting very good times in the junior varsity race at the CRC championships.

 Jimenez won it and Johnston followed in second. Next season, with the anticipated addition of sophomore Nina Hodges to the varsity roster, this team will be good — extremely good.

Runners on both teams put the goals of the group in front of their own. In high school sports, that’s how it should be, even in something that is more regarded as a “lone wolf” sport like cross country. The athletes have the right attitude when it comes down to sacrificing their bodies for the betterment of their teammates, and that’s why they are good now, and will be for a very long time.

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