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Ashland’s EJ Holland sets 3,000 state record to win 5A title

EUGENE — With a handful of laps left in the Class 5A boys 3,000 meters at the track and field state championships, Ashland’s EJ Holland expanded his list of goals.

“At the beginning,” said the sophomore, “my coach was like, ‘Just win. Don’t worry about the meet record.’

“Then with about five laps to go, it was, ‘I’m gonna win and get the meet record.’”

And that’s precisely what he did, with a helping hand, or legs, from Crater’s Jantz Tostenson and plenty of motivation from Marist senior Jerik Embleton.

Holland overtook Tostenson with about 300 meters to go Friday at Hayward Field, then surged to the finish line, arms outstretched in joy and a smile nearly as wide creasing his face.

His time of 8 minutes, 26.44 seconds broke the meet standard of 8:28:62, established in 2013 by Summit’s Matthew Maton.

Tostenson, a junior who last year won the state 1,500, barely missed the former record, clocking 8:28.74 while taking second.

Ashland and Crater compete in the Midwestern League, along with Embleton, the 2017 state champion in the 800 who was nearly 7 seconds back and in third.

“Those guys really pushed me,” said Holland. “Without Jantz, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Holland has been making noise since he joined the Grizzlies’ running programs as a freshman. He didn’t add any state titles to his resume that year, but his times and grit indicated he’d be one to reckon with.

Never was that more evident than last fall in the cross country state championships, when he pushed Crater’s Andy Monroe to the brink before settling for second place, despite achieving the same time.

Holland had long coveted a state title, but no more.

“It’s great,” he said.

Holland and Tostenson were of a like mind in their approach to the race — dispatch Embleton as early as possible.

The Marist senior showed off his ferocious kick at the district championships, coming from well off the pace to beat each by a second or so.

Holland had issues with his shoes that day, he said, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

“He still outkicked me, went straight by me,” said the Grizzly. “I knew that if we came to the last lap and he was on my shoulders, I was going to lose. So I just had to go for it.”

Holland and Tostenson didn’t discuss strategy, but the plan was obvious to both.

So when Holland went out in the first 1,600 meters in 4:28, Tostenson was right there.

“A million percent,” was how much it helped, said Holland. “I was hoping he was going to come.”

Tostenson expected Holland’s fast early pace. The former is well aware of the latter’s fitness and confidence.

Then Tostenson took over the second mile, leading until after the final lap had started.

The pace was perfect to shake Embleton and set up the finish.

“I was on the same page with (Holland),” said Tostenson. “My mindset was we have to jump Jerik before the end. We both know we can’t hold Jerik off. I’m glad EJ had the same thing in mind. I didn’t want to jerk around with his kick.”

When Tostenson passed Holland midway through, Holland wondered if others were coming. He looked back and saw they were well ahead.

“I was like, wow,” said Holland. “Kudos to Jantz, though. He really helped me get there, and he had a great race.”

Tostenson executed everything as he planned until the final lap.

Holland went past him on the third-to-last turn, pulled away for a bit, then held off a charge by the Comet.

Holland’s former personal best was 8:33.81 in the Oregon Relays. In that race, he placed second to another sophomore, Cole Sprout of Colorado. Sprout’s time of 8:13.85 still stands as the nation’s best by more than 7 seconds.

“That was crazy,” laughed Holland. “He dropped me after about four laps.”

Tostenson’s previous best was 8:36.87.

Both will be in Saturday’s 1,500 finals.

Holland found at district that if he goes hard in the 3,000, it helps him for the 1,500, which he set a PR in of 3:54.32 last week.

“Physically, it’ll take it out of him (Tostenson) as well in the 15 tomorrow,” said Holland. “It’ll take it out of me, too, obviously. We’ll be tired.”

The only part of Tostenson’s plan that didn’t come together Friday was holding off Holland on the outside at the end.

But afterward, he surmised, “great race with him and PRs all around the board.”

“I’m a little aggravated that my end didn’t come down to how I wanted it,” said Tostenson. “It just didn’t come to the outcome I wanted. In the end, a positive, a negative, great day and gotta rest up for tomorrow.”

Tostenson ran his best 1,500 last week, 3:59.93, in the MWL meet when he was second to Holland’s PR.

Reach Mail Tribune sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Andy Atkinson/Daily TidingsAshland High School sophomore EJ Holland raises his arms as he crosses the finish line to win the boys Class 5A 3,000-meter run at Hayward Field on Friday.