Madison Willhoft is the face of North Salem cross country, and her future is bright

North Salem's Madison Willhoft is photographed after cross country practice on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

North Salem’s Madison Willhoft is photographed after cross country practice on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

When asked about her goals this cross country season, Madison Willhoft made no mention of her own performance, instead focusing entirely on the North Salem team.

“It’s all about ‘we,’” said Willhoft, a junior runner for the Vikings. “And I would like us to get to state. Our goal is to (set personal records) at state. Basically ‘team, team, team’ is our goal this year.”

As a captain, Willhoft provides a voice of leadership for the Vikings as they get closer to the Oct. 26 Greater Valley Conference championships.

“She’s a good kid. She’s very well respected by her teammates,” said Michael Herrmann, North Salem co-head coach. “We have three really great captains, and she’s one of them. They all do a really good job of communicating and making sure they represent the voices of the team members. We look to them to try to build team spirit and get others involved.”

Last season, the Vikings finished sixth at the conference championships, and they’ll need to finish in the top three this season to advance as a team to the Class 6A state championships.

What are the keys to getting there?

“Staying strong and the loyalty,” Willhoft said.

Willhoft finished fourth in the GVC last season, and went on to finish 17th at the state championships. As a freshman in 2014, Willhoft placed second in the conference and 13th at state.

North Salem's Madison Willhoft is photographed after cross country practice on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

North Salem’s Madison Willhoft is photographed after cross country practice on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

“She wants to run in college. She wants to run at the highest level possible,” Herrmann said. “She knows she’s got to put it together in the offseason. Train in the winter, train in the summer.”

This season has largely been a learning experience so far for Willhoft, who had a slow start to the year.

“I ran in the summer, but not as much as I should have,” Willhoft said. “Just staying strong and healthy, and eating healthy. And doing a lot in the winter and summer are going to be big goals for me.”

Herrmann agreed.

“This year, she came out for cross country a little behind where we wanted. She’s finally getting back to where we would expect her to be this time of year,” Herrmann said. “But her summer wasn’t quite where it needed to be. But she is really stepping up. The maturity change from last year and her freshman year to now, she’s like a totally different kid.”

Willhoft won the Champoeg Invitational on Oct. 1 with a time of 19:05.7, and she finished first again Wednesday with a time of 19:12.6 against McKay and Forest Grove.

“She’s working hard after school, academically and athletically,” Herrmann said. “Showing up early before school to meet with teachers, and it’s just fantastic.”

Who is Willhoft’s favorite athlete?

“One that sticks out to me, even though she’s a sprinter, is (six-time Olympic gold medalist) Allyson Felix,” Willhoft said. “I love watching her run. I have a poster of her in my room.”

Willhoft has aspirations to run at the college level.

“It’s a dream,” she said. “It’s going to be really exciting. I can’t wait. There’s a lot of options open right now, but somewhere in Oregon would be nice. Close to family.”

Herrmann said Willhoft has what it takes to run beyond high school, but it will take hard work.

“I think she understands the opportunity she has now,” Herrmann said. “She realizes that in this sport, you only ever get out of it what you put in, and it’s a very demanding sport. You’re not going to do well simply based on athleticism. You’re going to have to work at it.

“She’s got opportunities,” Herrmann added. “A number of colleges have said, ‘yes, please fill out the questionnaire. We’re interested.’ And she realizes just how important the academic piece is.”

Looking toward the future, Willhoft would like to have a career in athletics.

“Maybe a personal trainer, or something athletic,” she said. “Athletics have always been fun.”

Don Berger, co-head coach of North Salem cross country, said he is proud to have Willhoft as the face of the program.

“One of the things you really hope for in cross country is if your No. 1 runner becomes the face of your program,” Berger said. “And she’s got it all together. She’s got the grades, the behavior, the work ethic, the talent, and she has become the face of our program. It’s pretty exciting to watch her grow into that.”