Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
EUGENE — Everywhere one looked, it appeared a Cascade Christian boy was winning a race, or a jump, or a throw, or giving someone else a real test.
The path to the awards podium might well have been renamed Challenger Boulevard.
Cascade Christian, with a versatile band of track and field athletes, captured the school's first state championship with a dominant performance at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field Friday.
The Challengers scored 85 points to outdistance Scio (60) and Westside Christian (56.5) for the Class 3A crown.
"It feels really good," said Aaron Cesaro, a junior who won the discus Friday after taking fifth in the shot put the day before. "We just have a great group of guys this year. It feels great that a bunch of us can come out here and put all our talents together and take it home."
In addition to Cesaro, Levi Girardot won the javelin by a wide margin and was third in the triple jump; Brandon Williams finished second and third in the 100 and 200, respectively; Aric Alcantara was fourth in the triple jump; and Tim McPherson was fifth in the 1,500.
Cascade Christian also was second in the 4x100 relay and third in the 4x400, the last event that really didn't matter.
"That's exactly what I hoped for," said Challengers head coach Chris George, "that the points in the relay wouldn't matter. But you take it how you can get it. To know it has to happen in that race would be way more nerve-racking. Maybe more rewarding, but I'm fine with the way it was."
The sixth-year coach had a feeling before the season that this could be a special season.
"I saw it as our best opportunity to take a run at it," he said. "I gathered the guys up and said if you guys want to take a stab at this, talk to the guys around school, bring 'em out, let's make it a goal and work hard and go get it. And they have done that."
The Challengers scored 21 first-day points, thanks largely to the long-jumping of Girardot and Alcantara.
The duo provided another fast start Friday, scoring 11 points in the triple jump, the first event of the day.
As the points continued to build, the Challengers weren't taking anything for granted regarding the team title.
"We'll wait until the fat lady sings," Williams grinned as he waited in the awards line following his 100 race. "But we'll do our best. Hopefully (we win); that'd be awesome."
He and his teammates knew what was at hand, however.
"There was a little talk," said Williams. "Everyone knows it's there, but it's not the priority. You've got to do your races and show what you've got."
They had plenty.
"We're not necessarily one little group of good guys," said Cesaro. "We're spread out through all the events so we can get points here and there and it just adds up."
Cesaro's win came late in his discus round. He trailed leader Wilson Hodge of Coquille by 21/2; feet with two throws left, then uncorked his best of the day, 150 feet, 1 inch.
"I was just told (by throws coach Scott Myers) I had some nervousness and to shake it out," said Cesaro. "So I just did that and ran around and did some weird little things and came out and threw it."
Girardot unloaded his winning javelin throw on his second attempt. A slight tail wind helped, and he hit 176-2, less than 3 feet off his best. He won the event by nearly 15 feet.
Girardot's third-place triple jump was 42-61/2;. Alcantara was right behind at 41-111/4.
Williams covered the 100 in 11.34 and the 200 in 23.05.
Williams, Cody Parker, Girardot and Alcantara combined in the 4x100 (43.93).
In the 4x400, it was Williams, Jake Brown, Alcantara and Alex Cummings clocking 3:30.26.
In other events, senior Mack Epple of Illinois Valley outdueled a busy Seth Gretz of Rogue River in the high jump.
Gretz, who missed out on a title in the pole vault the day before in a jump-off, claimed the 110 hurdles and was also runner-up in the 300 hurdles.
St. Mary's Hannah Graunke and Mia Harrie finished second and third, respectively, in the girls pole vault, and St. Mary's Tracy Salgado placed third in the boys 800. Cascade Christian's Stephanie Cory was third in the girls 1,500.
No one had as busy a time as Gretz, who was the high-point 3A boy with 34 points, earning the Chieftains fifth place all by himself.
He thought he had a shot at being the top individual.
"I did, but you never know," said Gretz. "There are so many good athletes and it's so big, you never know what's going to happen. But oh my gosh, I'm so excited."
Moments after the Chieftain senior won the 110 hurdles, he was pulled out of a backed-up awards line to take another try in the high jump.
He'd missed twice at 5-8, then was skipped and given only one try at 5-10. With Epple encouraging him, Gretz cleared that, then returned to the awards. Then it was back to the high jump, where he finished second to Epple.
Gretz won the 110 hurdles in 15.51 seconds, surging over the last two hurdles to pull past Daniel Harper of Scio.
His runner-up time in the intermediate hurdles was 39.67.
Epple credited Gretz, in part, for his success. Their schools are both in District 1 and they've competed often against each other.
"At 5-11, I was a little worried," said Epple. "I missed a couple times but pulled it together and finally cleared it. I couldn't do it without Seth. He's been a big motivation guy for me, always helping me."
Graunke cleared 9-9 and Harrie 9-3, behind winner Allie Hartley of Nyssa (10-3).
Salgado covered the 800 in 1:59.16 for third.
Croy helped the Challengers to sixth place, covering the metric mile in 4:59.23.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com