Everything that Clackamas High School's boys cross country team has done up this stage of the season has lived up to, if not exceeded, almost every expectation that the Cavaliers had when the season started.
They're also going around telling anybody who cares to listen that the best is yet to come.
The Cavaliers are even going so far as to say they think they could make a run at mighty Central Catholic, either at the Oct. 30 Mt. Hood Conference Championships or the Nov. 9 OSAA Class 6A State Championships -- or both.
Seniors Donovan DeWhitt, Benjamin Harvey, Jacob Harvey, and Trevor Nielsen have been to the state meet each of the past two seasons, and sophomore Maximilian Girardet, who was the No. 3 runner on the team that qualified for state a year ago.
The team's pecking order has stayed fairly consistent with Benjamin Harvey leading the way, followed by DeWhitt, Girardet, Jacob Harvey, and Nielsen, in that order.
Then there are four other seniors (Ethan Johnson, Justin Long, Aaron Ruth, and Sebastian Thorp) and another sophomore (Brady Hayes) who are currently in a battle for the Nos. 6 and 7 spots in the varsity lineup.
"This is a very good team, really solid, and it's a lot deeper than we originally thought," Benjamin Harvey said after Wednesday's Mt. Hood Conference/Portland Interscholastic League crossover meet at Grant Park in Northeast Portland. "Things are coming together really well.
"What we're doing now is all still base-building. We still have a little more than a month until state, so we're going to keep building and, hopefully, we peak at the right time. At least, that's the plan."
The Cavaliers have compiled an impressive resume through the first month of the regular season, starting with a sixth-place finish at the Sept. 14 Northwest Classic at Lane Community College in Eugene.
Next came the Sept. 21 Three Course Challenge at Camp Rilea in Warrenton when the Cavaliers took the top honors over the 5,000-meter hard course, placing five runners among the top 29 finishers in a field of 300 runners.
The Cavaliers then competed in the Nike Portland XC meet at Blue Lake Park in Fairview on Sept. 28 and turned some heads when they won the Division 1 Varsity boys division by a 125-142 spread over the runner-up Eagle Mustangs of Eagle, Idaho.
Benjamin Harvey finished 10 th overall in 16:31.30, and Clackamas' next four -- DeWhitt, Girardet, Jacob Harvey, and Nielsen, in that order -- all finished between 16:39 and 17:11.
"The Blue Lake race was the first time we really tried to race hard, just to make a statement and show people what we could do," Cavaliers coach Anton Clifford said. "People didn't PR (set personal records) that race because it was a pretty muddy course, but we placed first in Division 1, so I was pretty happy with the results."
In Wednesday's meet, Clackamas' top five eased off the accelerator and ran at a more-leisurely pace - not too fast, but fast enough that the Cavaliers won their two league dual races, beating David Douglas, 25-30, and Gresham, 15-50.
"This meet was about giving them a bit of a break because you don't want to race that hard back to back," Clifford said. "They still had a good race today.
"I think this team is a top-10 contender. Were not on the list right now, but I don't know why, because we keep beating people that are in the top 10. I think we'll get in that conversation eventually, but I think we definitely belong in that top-10 group."
The most recent OSAA coaches' poll from Sept. 26 and Athletic.net's latest 6A "hypothetical meet" projections are roughly the same, with Jesuit ranked first, and Franklin, South Eugene, Sherwood, and Central Catholic rounding out the top five.
Next, Sheldon, Summit, Sunset, Lincoln, and Grant are ranked Nos. 6-10, respectively, with Clackamas, Tualatin and Westview knocking on the door.
Since joining the Mt. Hood Conference in 2014, the Cavaliers have run in Central Catholic's shadow. They finished second to the Rams by a score of 27-70 at the 2017 district championships, and then finished second again by a 20-62 count at district a year ago.
Central Catholic remains a formidable favorite to repeat as district champions and Athletic.net's current projections show the Rams beating Clacakams by a 28-58 margin, although the Cavaliers insist the gap has closed even more than that.
Could the Cavaliers make a run at the Rams at either district or at state?
"That is a goal," Benjamin Harvey said. "We're still the underdogs, but we have a chance. And it's more realistic to think that we could do it now than it was when the season started."
Said DeWhitt: "It's definitely a goal. We have that in our sights and it's not too outlandish to say that we could do it. We just need to be smart about it.
"There's nothing more we would want. It's Central Catholic. They're just another group of kids who are trying to do their best, as well. So, we've got to understand that we're all in it together and try and get what we want out of the experience.
"We know we can do well as a team and having that synergy to run faster together is really what's going to take us much further than any other year."
Clackamas and Central Catholic are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in a Mt. Hood/PIL crossover with Cleveland, Grant, Reynolds, and Wilson at Fernhill Park in Northeast Portland, but it remains to be seen if the Cavaliers and Rams actually race or use the meet as a workout.
"We'll have to see how that plays out," Clifford said. "Central Catholic, obviously, is the front-runner in our conference right now and you might want to play things close to the chest with them."
But the goal is to try and beat Central Catholic, right?
"That's one of our main goals for the season, is to let them know that we're serious and that they shouldn't underestimate us," Clifford said.
The Rams are led by seniors Spencer Hardy, Jameson Westhead, and Josue Corona-Solis, and they have eight runners, counting the top three, who have run 16:44 or better this season. Clackamas has two, and maybe that's where the Cavs vs. Rams discussion begins and ends.
But the Cavaliers like to think that there is more to it than that, espcially when it comes to races that have yet to be run.
"I want the best for all of us," DeWhitt said. "It's hard to gain the perspective now of what we're doing and how it's going to benefit us, but it will. We just have to keep on the same path."
Added Benjamin Harvey: "Districts the last two years, that was our race. We were trying to get to state. And this year, I think we have an actual chance to compete at the state level, so everyone should have their eyes on that rather than districts.
"We're still going to race to win at districts, but state is where it's at."
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