More than 700 runners from middle school to high school will line up for the annual Runners Soul XC Fest on Saturday — one of the largest meets in Eastern Oregon.

“It was the Hermiston Invite when I was in school,” said Hermiston coach Troy Blackburn, who ran at Stanfield. “It has been going on for 25 years or so. Right now, we have 23 high schools and 15 middle schools coming.”

Among those on the list are Kennewick, Chiawana, West Valley (Yakima), Albany, Union, Stanfield and Heppner.

The Union girls won the title last year, while the Union boys were second.

“Our girls team is pretty good,” Union coach Steve Sheehy said. “We have 11 girls out. Success helps. Once you get rolling, it helps with recruiting and culture.”

Sophomore Audrey Wells and senior Jaimee Baxter will lead the Bobcats on Saturday.

The races, which begin and end at Sandstone Middle School, range from 2,500 meters for middle school runners, to 5,000 meters for the high school junior varsity and varsity races.

The middle school girls races will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the boys.

There will be a community race between the middle school and high school races. Community members will have a choice of a 1.5-mile course, or a 5K. Both will begin at 10:50 a.m. The race is free and no registration is required.

The girls junior varsity race is set for 11:30 a.m., with the boys at 12:10 p.m. Girls varsity follows at 12:50, with the boys varsity at 1:30 p.m.

Awards will follow the races, and in spirit of Hermiston, watermelon will be available for all athletes and coaches.

The Hermiston boys finished third in the boys varsity race last year, with senior Freddy Mendoza leading the way with a 15th-place finish.

“We are pretty young,” Blackburn said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Greg Anderson is back. He put in almost 600 miles this summer. He is looking strong and confident.”

The boys race will be wide open. Last year’s champ, Tim Stevens of Union is now running at University of Idaho. Six of the top 10 finishers from last year graduated.

The Stanfield boys return Rafael Orozco, Franklin Gomez and Sisay Hurty, who finished 16th overall last in last year’s race.

The Hermiston girls were seventh, led by freshman Cydney Sanchez, who crossed the finish line in 11th place.

“We stay healthy, we have a good chance to win it,” Blackburn said of his girls team. “Cydney is looking stronger than last year, and Amanda Nygard, who took last year off, is looking good. Julianna Joyce, who had surgery last year, is healthy again.”

Nygard (25th) and Joyce (48th) both qualified for the Oregon 5A state cross country meet in 2017.

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