Hood River Valley junior Frances Dickinson has the top 5A time this season. (Photo by Tom McKnight)
Hood River Valley junior Frances Dickinson has the top 5A time this season. (Photo by Tom McKnight)

The 2017 season opened the eyes of Hood River Valley’s girls cross country team.

The Eagles got a huge boost when the Dickinson twins – Frances and Josephine -- left the lacrosse team to join them. And when they finished an impressive second at the 5A championships, light bulbs went on throughout the lineup.

“It was a super young team, inexperienced,” coach Brandon Bertram said. “We aligned the stars at the state meet, kind of like you always want to.

“And then we returned that entire team. That momentum that we grabbed, those girls took right into the summer. They had a great track season, too, got a little more seasoned.”

Now Hood River Valley is looking like a 5A power. The Eagles are No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 5A coaches poll, and with four runners ranked among the top 12 in the classification, they have a shot at their first state title since 1992.

It doesn’t hurt that Summit, which won the last 10 state titles, has moved on to 6A.

“It’s kind of cool. We finally get a chance to get a big trophy,” Bertram said. “If everybody does what they’re capable of, we have a great opportunity to win.”

Juniors Frances and Josephine Dickinson – who finished 10th and 11th, respectively, in the state meet last year – have had much different seasons. Whereas Frances has recorded the top time in 5A at 18:26.1, Josephine has been sidelined with tendinitis in her hip.

Frances’ time is a 38-second improvement from last year.

“She’s just maturing as a runner,” Bertram said. “She’s totally different now. She’s got a swagger and confidence to her this year that’s really neat to see. But she works for it. She always wants a little bit more.”

Josephine Dickinson is expected to make her season debut Friday in the Champoeg Invitational.

“She had a good summer but got overzealous, and she learned a lot from it,” Bertram said. “She’s fully recovered now and ready to race. She’s super stoked because she’s watched her teammates do what they’ve done, and she’s just sitting and waiting for her opportunity.”

Hood River Valley dominates the list of top times in 5A with Frances Dickinson (first), freshman Brinna Weiseth (sixth), senior Evelyn Nunez (eighth), junior Lottie Bromham (12th) and sophomore Chloe Bullock (24th). Bromham was 12th in the state meet last year.

The Eagles showed newfound dedication in the summer, training together as many as four or five days a week, often running trails in a nearby canyon. They also attended an elite distance running camp in Montana.

They have made a habit out of staying after practice to put in extra work.

“I’ve never seen a group put that extra piece in together,” Bertram said.

The program has about 50 runners, more than double what it had when Bertram took over as coach in 2014.

“We’re kind of hitting our stride with the program,” said Bertram, who ran for Black Hills State, an NAIA program in South Dakota. “It had a tradition before I got here, it just needed a little more oomph.”

The Eagles anticipate being challenged by No. 2 Wilsonville, No. 3 North Salem, No. 4 Crater and No. 5 Crescent Valley at the state meet. At the Northwest Classic on Sept. 15 on the state-meet course at Lane Community College, the Eagles (152) finished ahead of Wilsonville (181) and North Salem (244).

Hood River Valley will see North Salem and Crescent Valley in Friday’s meet.

“That will give us a really good barometer,” Bertram said. “And we’ll be at full strength.”