EUGENE – Cottage Grove High School junior Carter Bengtson went into the cross country state championship on Saturday at Lane Community College as the clear favorite to bring home the Class 4A boys individual title.
Not even a rainstorm could stop him from completing his mission as Bengtson slogged through muddy conditions en route to a dominant win in 15:49, beating the second-place finisher by 41 seconds.
“It’s everything I could have asked for. I’ve been dreaming about this the entire season,” Bengtson said. “My teammates and I have been training for this the whole time. We knew what we were doing, we got out here, and we got what we wanted.”
Bengtson became the first Cottage Grove High School athlete to win an individual state meet in cross country since the legendary Dyrol Burleson in 1957. Burleson was inducted into the collegiate into the Collegiate Athlete Hall of Fame on Sept. 14. The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) hosted the ceremony at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.
“I keep telling the kids like, don’t take it for granted,” said Lions coach Ricky Knutson. “It’s not every year you get a kid that’s not only as talented as Carter, but somebody that is just one of the hardest workers on the team, so he’s an easy guy to cheer for. I know he crossed the finish line first today, but he won this race in June, July and August. That’s when he put in all the work. You can only get so much done during a 12-week season. And it’s a big jump that he made from last year to this year, which is really a credit to the work he put in over the summer.”
Bengtson returned this season after earning sixth place at the state meet last year. The work over the summer clearly paid off as Bengtson improved his personal record by 40 seconds over last year’s time. Not that that made the pressure of being the favorite any easier.
“I knew coming in I just had to do what I’d been doing all season. I knew what pace I had to run, I just had to run it,” Bengtson said. “All morning I was stressed out of my mind. I was terrified. I knew I could do it, but I was questioning whether I actually would the entire day.”
Knutson’s seen lots of gutsy performances in his 17 years as a coach. Seeing Bengtson do something no CG athlete has done in 66 years? Even more impressive.
“With him coming in being such a big favorite, it’s a lot of pressure. I’m just proud of how he handled that. It can take a lot out of you being a favorite coming into the state meet like that,” Knutson said. “He didn’t let the excitement get the best of him and get out too hot. He ran a perfect first mile, and then he was just able to keep his foot on the gas, especially given the conditions out here today.”
Bengtson has had a whirl of a fall season, and an even more hectic last few weeks as he also starts on the Cottage Grove boys soccer team. The past three weeks Bengtson has: Helped the soccer team clinch its first league title since 2017, won the Sky-Em XC meet, won a first-round playoff game, won the state XC meet, and, only hours later, the soccer team punched its ticket to the state semifinals.
“It’s crazy. From the start of the season, I knew all our teams could do something like this. This is what we’ve been training for,” Bengtson said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates, they’re amazing. I love practicing with all of them every day.”
On the day, the boys cross country team finished seventh overall, and the girls team tied the program’s highest finish at sixth place. Maddison France was the girl’s highest finisher in 16th.
“They were tough, they ran hard, and they all come back next year,” Knutson said of the girls team. “It wasn’t exactly the day they wanted to have, but it still ties the best finish in school history. So they’re hungry, they’re going to be ready to come back. … They definitely have nothing to hang their heads about. It was a really, really solid season for them.”