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South remains on track for a trophy

EUGENE -- South Medford's goal of taking home a trophy for the third straight year remained a strong possibility after the opening day of the Class 4A-3A state track and field meet Friday.

Janette Martin, the key cog in the Panthers' quest for another chunk of hardware, advanced to the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash finals.

Martin will be the favorite in today's 400 and is expected to score in the other two events. Pole vaulter Kristin Russell is also being penciled in for a lofty finish, and if discus thrower Kylie Healy and high jumper Stacy Lambert can add a few points of their own, the Panthers should score between 30 and 35 points, which is generally good enough for fourth place or higher.

The top four teams walk off with trophies.

Martin had a good day in qualifying and the other girls are ready to go, Rowan said. It would have been nice to advance a couple of other kids to the finals, but we didn't suffer any big setbacks.

Barlow got off to the first-day lead in the 4A girls division with 12 points, followed closely by South Eugene, Sheldon, Putnam and LaGrande, with 10 points each.

Benson, however, is expected to blow away the competition once the majority of finals get under way today. The battle for second is up for grabs, and South Medford is in the mix.

Martin won her heat in the 400 (58.45), finished second in the 200 (25.57) and was third in a fast heat of the 100 (12.45).

She topped off Friday by running the anchor leg of South Medford's 1,600 relay, but was hopelessly behind when she got the baton and the Panthers were ousted from that event.

I'm just going to take it one event at a time and not look ahead, said Martin about today's triple sprint challenge that will find her running the 100 and 400 within 15 minutes of each other. I've got a lot of endurance and mentally I know I can handle it.

South Medford was hoping to pick up some bonus points from hurdlers Sarah Duarte and Heather Frigaard and 800 runner Emily Perttu, but not of them made it past Friday's prelims.

Overall, it wasn't a good day for competitors from the Southern Oregon Conference.

Of the nine finals contested Friday -- five boys and four girls -- the best the SOC could muster was a third-place showing by Kaci Williams in the girls shot put (40-1).

Ashland's Jackie Woods was fourth in the girls shot (39-11) and the Grizzlies' Nick Bakke was fifth in the boys discus (151-9).

On the track, Klamath Union's Ian Dobson took fourth in the boys 3,000 (8:34.37) and Eagle Point's John Lucas was fifth (8:48.06).

Woods didn't mince words about her performance that included a last-place performance in the long jump (14-6).

I'm choking at the big meets, she said. I know I'm young, but it's time I stepped it up.

North Medford discus thrower Scott Myers fared no better. After launching several throws over 160 feet in practice Thursday, the best Myers could do Friday was 135-6, which netted him 11th place.

The big stage that is the state meet didn't faze the Black Tornado's Nick Dunn in the least, however.

Dunn ran strong preliminary races in the 400 and 300 hurdles, moving to the finals in each and running a lifetime best of 39.23 to win his heat in the hurdles.

Dunn topped off his day by clocking a 50.3 split in the 1,600 relay, rallying North Medford from third place to win the heat.

I'm just really excited about being up here and having a chance to run, said Dunn, who gleefully jumped up and down after storming past a couple of other runners to win the relay qualifier. I'm ready for the finals.

South Medford's Perry Custance advanced to the finals in the boys 800 after taking second in his heat in 1:57.44.

Ashland's Taylor Cropper moved on to the finals in the 110 high hurdles, winning his heat in 14.88, but failed miserably in the intermediate hurdles with a next-to-last performance. Barlow of Gresham leads the boys team race after the opening day with 22 points, followed by Tigard (17), Benson (15) and Jesuit (13) and Bend (13).

In the Class 3A girls meet, Rogue River's Selena Harman was third in the 3,000 (10:33.22) and the Chieftains' Sarah Zempel was third in the shot put (36-10).

Harman won the 3,000 last year but was no match Friday for Mandi Fitz-Gustafson of The Dalles or Yamhill-Carlton's Erin Seward, who put on a furious sprint down the home stretch. Fitz-Gustafson won by a mere 8/100ths of a second in 10:17.08.

To be honest I didn't handle being a state champion very well, Harman said. When you reach the top you have nowhere to go except backwards. Everyone expects you to win every week. I had a hard time dealing with that.

Harman trailed the two front-runners by about 40 meters halfway through the race and was able to close the gap to less than half that distance, but the comeback effort proved futile.

Still, the Rogue River girls remain in good shape to come home with a trophy. Mindi Yost won her heat in the 300 hurdles, Bobbi Wright advanced to the finals in the 800 and the Chiefs 1,600 relay progressed to the finals.

The Dalles has the first-day lead in the Class 3A girls chase with 25 points. Yamhill-Carlton is second with 16 and Rogue River and Waldport are tied for third with 12.

Surprising Seaside paces the Class 3A boys with 27 points.