Cottage Grove, Sports Zone

Ready to roar: Lions chasing history for boys, girls teams

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Chronicle’s 2023 fall sports preview special section. To see the full issue, grab a copy of the August 31 edition at any local Dari Mart on Wednesday, or give us a call at our office: 541-515-6233.

COTTAGE GROVE – The Cottage Grove Lions cross-country teams – boys and girls – said they hope to make this a historic season.

If the boys team is able to qualify for the state meet, it would be the first time the boys team has gone to state three years in a row since 1959.

The girls team is attempting to qualify in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history, and has a chance to grab the first state trophy – given to the top four teams – in program history.

“During track season some of those girls made some huge leaps, so that was encouraging. They put in so much work this summer, and we added Maddison France, who transferred mid-year last year and was a state qualifier in the 3000,” coach Ricky Knutson said, noting that the Lions would have taken fourth place at state had France run for them last year. “They’re excited, and they work really well together.”

Last season the girls team came in second at the league meet and seventh at state, led by a group that Knutson said was right on schedule.

“For the girls it felt like a natural progression. They were third the year before and most of the girls came back last year,” Knutson said. “It was a nice bit of experience for those girls. And a seventh-place finish (at state), that’s second-best in school history.”

Along with the addition of France, the girls program returns top runners Allison Palluck, 7th place in league and 23rd at state, and Bella Keating, 29th at state. The really fun part for Knutson, the girls program is still ascending.

“None of them are seniors either. And next year I think there are four girls coming into the middle school that are going to be fighting for spots, too. So it’s a fun time for the girls program,” he said.

Cottage Grove’s Allison Palluck competes in a meet last season. Palluck, a junior, is Cottage Grove’s top returner on the girls side. Palluck ran a 21:08 personal record last year and came in 23rd at the state championship meet.

While the girls team returns all their important runners, it’s almost the exact opposite on the boys side. Junior Carter Bengtson, 6th place at state last year, is the only runner from last year’s top seven that is back.

It won’t be easy replacing six runners from a team that won league and came in eighth at state, but last year’s team actually faced a similar challenge.

“On the boys side it was exciting because four of the guys from the previous year (2021) didn’t come out, so there was a little bit of unknown. For the boys to gel and put in the work and come out as district champions, that was really cool for them,” Knutson said.

Knutson clearly doesn’t believe this is a rebuilding year as the expectations haven’t changed for the boys program.

“The expectations are high. I’ve been trying to convey to these guys how much potential they have, and they’re buying in. They ran all summer, and some of those guys made some really big jumps from winter to spring,” Knutson said.

“The big question will be getting that varsity experience and hopefully we can develop that over the course of the season. But they’ve been working out all summer. I’ve never seen a group like this so dedicated.” 

A dedicated group that gets necessary experience is a scary sight for any team looking to challenge the boys at the league meet later this season. While it’s a tough league to compete in, it’s best not to underestimate a hungry lion.

“Most people aren’t expecting us to be very tough after replacing six guys, but we’re gonna surprise some people,” Knutson said.

2022 file PHOTO
Cottage Grove’s Carter Bengtson comes down the final stretch in a meet at LCC last year. As a sophomore, Bengston finished third in the Sky-Em League and sixth at state. Bengston is the only returner from last year’s boys team that won league.



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