The number of state qualifiers fell in line with what the Culver track and field team expected. Some of the athletes who earned berths, however, pleasantly surprised the Bulldogs.
Last Saturday at the Columbia Basin Conference district meet in Prineville, Culver saw 14 kids punch their tickets to the 2A State Track Meet.
Between individual events and relays, the Culver girls tallied 84 points and placed second behind Stanfield's 89 points. Catylynn Duff won the discus and shot put; Emma Knepp won the 1,500 and 3,000; Irma Retano won the 800, while finishing runner-up in the 200 and 400; Jessica Johnson took second in the 800; and Hannah Orey teamed with Johnson, Knepp and Retano to place second in the girls' 4-x-400 relay. Bridget Lopez will serve as an alternate on the relay team.
"Most of the kids that we expected to get to state got there, and we had some extras that were the icing on the cake," Culver head coach Mike Dove said.
But it was the Culver boys' side that exceeded their marks and advanced eight to state, headlined by a couple of gutsy relay races that they weren't favored in.
The Bulldogs' sprint relay team broke out to a sizable lead after Kash Michael's torrid opening leg, before Edwin Gutierrez, Jordan VanAlstyne and Hector Leal maintained their margins to win in 47.69 seconds, nearly two seconds better than runner-up Weston-McEwen.
Other Bulldog boys that qualified for state were Mack Little, Johan Jaimes, Christopher Munoz-Toledo, Ian Stevens, plus Jerron Rhen and Hunter Keiski as alternates in the 4-x-400 relay.
"The boys competed out of their minds today," Dove said. "Our boys winning the sprint relay — there was no way they should've won. Finishing second in the mile relay — they were the number three seed and back by 20 seconds ... It was a fantastic day."
Not surprisingly, Duff was Culver's first state qualifier of the day, when she took first place in the shot put, saving her best throw of 34 feet, 3 inches for last.
"I kind of went through a slump in the middle of the season, so it's nice to be on the uphill track again," Duff said.
But she wasn't done there.In the discus, Duff shattered her own lifetime best with a throw of 128-8, which also established a new best mark at the 2A level this season.
"I'm hoping for a state title in discus and to get on the podium in shot put," Duff said. "Whatever falls will fall."
Knepp matched Duff with two events in which she took the top spot on the podium. Her first race of the day — the 1,500 — was one of the highlights of the meet.She had a slight edge on Weston-McEwen's Katie Vescio for a good portion of the race, but down the final straightaway, the two matched each other stride for stride. Knepp won by the smallest of margins, clocking a season-best time of 5:17.66 compared to Vescio's 5:17.67.
"I kind of had a little feeling (I won) because she didn't lean in and I did," Knepp said. "It was really close ... She was right behind me the whole race, so she really pushed me."
Knepp also won the 3,000 — an event she was competing in for only the second time ever in her high school career. She finished in 11:58.94, nearly 27 seconds better than second-place Jenny Garcia of Stanfield, and easily topped her previous best of 12:21.08.
Seeded second behind Pilot Rock's Abby Rigby in both the 200 and 400, Retano was unable to usurp Rigby in either event, but will get another chance to do so at state. The 400 offers plenty of intrigue, as Rigby and Retano hold the first and second-best 2A girls times.
"I'm glad about the way I finished, but what really matters to me is next week," Retano said. "My goal is to win a state championship, to be like the rest of my family, because they're all state champions."
The Culver girls got a chance to redeem themselves after an exchange mishap in the sprint relay disqualified them.
In the anchor leg of the mile relay, Retano received the baton several seconds behind Weston-McEwen's Keree Graves, and very nearly chased her down. Ultimately, Culver finished second in 4:31.35 to the TigerScots' time of 4:30.76.
"Our girls' mile relay is going to be really competitive," Dove said. "They ran a great race."
Meanwhile, the Culver boys were well-represented across the track and field.
Little took second place in the discus with a throw of 112-0 that was one inch better than third-place Derek Howard of Heppner.
Jaimes followed suit with a runner-up finish in the high jump, clearing the bar set at 5-6.
In the pole vault, Stevens and VanAlstyne placed first and second with heights of 10-9 and 9-6, respectively, both of which were PRs.
Gutierrez faced a tough moment in the 400 when a torrential downpour came down right as the race was set to begin. Having to squint as he ran head on into the wind and rain, Gutierrez didn't hit the time he wanted, but still did enough to place second and earn his first trip to state.
"This is actually the first time I'm going to state for any kind of sport," Gutierrez said. "Just being able to accomplish my goal was really heartwarming and made me feel good, made my parents feel good. It was just great."
Munoz-Toledo narrowly missed out on qualifying in the 300 intermediate hurdles, finishing only 0.18 behind the second-place time set by Heppner's Alex Lindsay. But, in Saturday's last event, the 4-x-400, the senior combined with Gutierrez, Michael and VanAlstyne to to place second in 3:47.91, despite entering the day with the third-best time.
The 2A State Track Championships at Eugene's Hayward Field begin with prelims at 10 a.m.
Culver state qualifiers
Girls: Catylynn Duff (discus, shot put); Jessica Johnson (800 meters, 4x400 relay); Emma Knepp (1,500, 3,000; 4x400 relay); Hannah Orey (4x400 relay); Irma Retano (200, 400, 800, 4x400 relay).
Boys: Edwin Gutierrez (400, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay); Johan Jaimes (high jump); Hector Leal (100, 4x100 relay); Mack Little (discus); Kash Michael (4x100 relay, 4x400 relay); Christopher Munoz-Toledo (4x400 relay); Ian Stevens (pole vault;) Jordan VanAlstyne (pole vault, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay).