Southern Oregon stars have long enjoyed their moment in the sun during the state track and field championships, and this year stands to be no different with a host of athletes in line to make plenty of noise at Hayward Field in Eugene.
Action begins Thursday for the Class 3A-1A contenders, with the 6A-4A ranks joining along Friday and the entire event wrapping up with the state’s largest three classes Saturday on the University of Oregon campus.
In those three days, odds are pretty good that a handful of those from the Rogue Valley will settle in toward the top of the podium in a host of track and field events.
No local school is in better position than Class 5A Crater, with junior standouts Andy Monroe and Cal Duke leading the charge.
Monroe is simply a special talent, one of those distance runners who doesn’t come around very often. He was the Class 5A cross country state champion in the fall and helped lead the Comets to a team championship — earning 2016 Gatorade state runner of the year honors — and will be looking to repeat his sweep of the 3,000 meters and 1,500 meters from last year’s state track meet.
The field is never easy and the task certainly daunting but Monroe has put himself in good position heading into this week’s meet. Monroe already held the top time at his level in the 1,500 — and second-best at all levels — with his time of 3 minutes, 53.93 seconds set on April 28 at the Nike/Jesuit Twilight Relays but took his 3,000 efforts up a notch last Thursday in the Midwestern League championships. In that meet, Monroe posted a 5A-best time of 8:45.41 to win going away, and that mark ranks seventh at all levels this season.
For comparison sake, last year Monroe won the 3,000 in 8:55.05 and the 1,500 in 3:57.86, edging out 2016 Crater graduate Walter Vail by a step or two each time. This year, he will have Crater teammate Jantz Tostenson and Ashland’s E.J. Holland in each race, with Crater’s Griff Hokanson also in the 3,000.
Duke secured two individual wins and was on two winning relays in this past weekend’s MWL districts as the Comets rolled to the team title and he stands to be on display again this week. Duke boasts the best time at the 5A level in the 300 hurdles (39.22) and is a threat in the 110 hurdles with his season-best mark of 15.47.
Duke and Monroe teamed up with Austin Kramer and Ryland McCullough on a winning 4x400 relay squad that posted the state’s fourth-best time at the 5A level this past weekend (3:28.91). For good measure, Duke will be joined by Kramer, Wyatt Vancil and Tysen Lang in competing in the 4x100 relay (44.15) to give him yet another opportunity to shine on the state’s biggest stage. If he had wanted and it fit his event schedule, Duke might have been able to qualify in the 200 given his time of 22.39 ranks third overall at 5A.
Another 5A heavyweight who will be fun to watch this week is Eagle Point senior Anthony Gray, who has had a spectacular season in the sprints and is coming off MWL victories in the 100 and 200. Gray’s season-best times of 10.87 in the 100 and 22.07 in the 200 ranks him second in 5A racing, where he has been remarkably consistent this spring regardless of the level of competition he has faced. Both marks rank him among the top 10 at any classification this season.
The only local field that will be able to rival the 5A ranks for routine championship chases by athletes from this area is in 3A, where St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian each have great potential overall and flagship bearers in sophomores Emma Bennion and Emily Stephens, respectively.
Last year, St. Mary’s won its first girls team state title since 2012 when it topped Cascade Christian by 14½ points and Bennion was a big reason for that success. Bennion won the 300 hurdles title with a PR of 47.47, placed second in the 800 in a race she led until the final 10 meters, finished fifth in the 3,000 (11:17.4) and was part of the Crusaders’ runner-up 4x400 relay squad (4:07.62).
This past weekend at the Southern Cascade League championships, Bennion won the 800 in a time that was about 20 seconds off her season best of 2:22.01 and the time she posted in last year’s state meet. She won the 3,000 in another time that was well off her season best of 11:15.33, meaning she ought to have plenty in the tank for this week’s finals.
Pressed into action by Lakeview’s Brette Graham if she was going to nab the SCL’s 300 hurdles crown, Bennion responded with a 3A-best time of 46.49 to edge Graham’s runner-up mark of 47.49.
For good measure, Bennion also teamed with Aessa Catt, Meghan Michels and Maddie Wheelock to post the state’s best time in 3A of 4:09.09 in the 4x400 relay, which also saw Cascade Christian post the third-best 3A mark (4:12.58) to make for yet another fun state duel.
Stephens got her feet wet on the big stage last year by placing third in the high jump (5-0), fourth in the 200 (26.75) and playing a role in both winning relay teams (50.72 in 4x100 and 4:06.21 in 4x400).
Stephens would be happy to return to the top of the podium in both relay events and will be looking to make up for a missed opportunity last season when she went into the state meet with the top height in the high jump — as she does again this year at 5-5 — but couldn’t claim the top prize.
Stephens also boasts the top 3A time in the 400 (1:00.23), giving her a legitimate shot at four state titles should things go her way Thursday and Friday.
In the 6A meet, North Medford freshman Jaida Ross has a chance at putting herself in rare company should she maintain the shot put form that has allowed her to post the top mark at her level (43-6½) and in school history.
Since senior Emily Shaw started off with a bang by becoming the first Black Tornado girl to eclipse 40 feet in the shot put, Ross has taken over and raised the bar higher and higher with each opportunity. Should she prevail, Ross would have a chance at being a four-time state champion with continued development, and that just doesn’t happen on a regular basis in this track-rich state.
For comparison’s sake, Ross’ season best ranks second at all levels this season in the shot put, and she also has the state’s second-best 6A mark in the discus (127-0).
In the 4A meet, Phoenix’s girls team will look to build off an effort this past weekend that saw them win their first Skyline Conference title in 40 years and break a 30-year stronghold by Henley.
One of the more prolific Pirate hopefuls may be its youngest in freshman Sienna Bauer, who boasts the second-best 100 hurdles time at the 4A level (16.01). Bauer has been in the low-to-mid 16-second range all season — save for a hiccup in the Grants Pass Rotary Invitational — and she will look to rise to the occasion in her first state meet against a solid field.
And you can never count out a deep list of other local standouts — too numerous to mention — who have been waiting in the wings all season and who will seek their big moment in the spotlight at the final gathering of the year. Every year, someone steps up from the shadows to earn their spot in state history.
So whoever you follow, this week stands to be an intriguing one in Eugene.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry