Slow starts in the 110-meter high hurdles had plagued Harrison Manu all season.
He often relied on his long legs to accelerate and make up lost ground over the course of the 10 hurdles. Before the Tri-Valley Conference district meet last Friday and Saturday, that method usually worked for Manu. But, when he finished second in Friday's preliminary heat behind Molalla's David Sumpter, he knew a quicker start could easily make up the difference between first and second place.
Manu's prelims time of 16.30 seconds was three-tenths of a second better than his previous PR, and not far off of Sumpter's 16.24 mark. First place was certainly within his reach. So, as Manu and his Madras teammates made the half-hour bus trip to Prineville's Ward Rhoden Stadium Saturday morning, he visualized getting a quick jump at the sound of the starting gun.
"All I could think about was exploding coming off the blocks; just explosive thoughts," Manu said. "I get up to the line and I'm nervous as heck. But looking over to my left, the guy (says), 'on your mark, set,' but when he says set, (I'm ready to) explode."
Explode is exactly what he did. Manu burst off the blocks in lane three with Sumpter next to him in lane four. Sumpter had a slight edge through the first three hurdles, before Manu put his closing speed to use. Both boys clipped the second to last hurdle, but Manu recovered quicker and crossed the finish line in 16.20, while Sumpter finished in 16.55.
"I've had problems throughout the season with slow starts, but I catch up in the middle," Manu said. "Today I think I had a really good start — way better than yesterday — and just a great finish."
With the top two placers in each event going to the 4A state track meet May 19-20 in Eugene, Manu earned his spot and highlighted a group of White Buffalo boys that combined to place fourth out of six TVC teams with 38 points. Although Manu will represent Madras by himself at state, several other Buffs were close to qualifying: Dalton Waldow placed third in the boys long jump; Genesis Lucei was third in the boys 1,500 meters; Lizzy Wienert was fourth in the girls javelin. Catalino LeClaire took fifth in the boys 400; Ally Dominiak was seventh in the girls discus; and in the triple jump, Treyvon Easterling and Benjamin Ellis ended the day in sixth and seventh place.
Manu himself had a chance to qualify in two other events — the 300 intermediate hurdles and javelin — but he placed third and fifth, respectively. The javelin was his first event Saturday, and after he fell short of a qualifying distance, his focus quickly shifted to the 110 hurdles.
"He knew that he was a legit shot in three events," Madras head coach Darrell Yount said. "When the javelin didn't go the way he wanted it to, he told me he really had the resolve that, when the 110s came, he was really excited (and) feeling really confident."
Ironically, Madras coaches assumed that Manu's best chance at state was in the 300 hurdles, based on other competitors' times. He admitted feeling fatigued at the time the race began, and his pre-race food choice likely didn't help.
"I could feel it in my legs — had shin splints pretty bad; I (also) had a hot dog before the race," Manu said with a laugh. "But, the same stuff was going through my head — just explode of the blocks and give it your all."
Waldow, a sophomore, competed in the long jump finals Friday evening before most other events. He found himself with the third best mark heading into the event, and although he set a new personal best of 19 feet, 11.5 inches, he was unable to cross the 20-foot distance that he would have needed to move up.
LeClaire found himself at odds in the 400. His seed put him in lane eight on the outside, which makes racing tactics especially tough with poor visibility. Before the race, Yount told LeClaire that his best chance would be to run a fast race from the start. He sprinted out to a lead through the first 300 meters, but rounding the final turn, other runners on the inside caught up to and passed him. He still managed to set a PR of 55.25 seconds, more than a second better than his preliminary time on Friday.
A similar situation occurred near the end of competition Saturday, when the Madras boys found themselves with a lot of ground to make up entering the final leg of the 4-x-400 relay. Manu passed the baton to Thomas LeClaire, who gave it his all on the last lap, ensuring Madras would finish no worse than fourth.
"Basically it's an impossibility, but the only possible solution is to try to sprint the whole thing," Yount said. "By running conservative, you've basically given up. That's not in the LeClaire brothers' vocabulary … Fun to coach that type of an athlete who have no quit in them."
Then there was Lucei, who shed nearly 12 seconds off of his previous best in the 1,500 by clocking a time of 4:32.33. Sandwiched between three Crook County runners in Tyler Lawson, Cade Catterson and Noah Chaney, Lucei moved up from fourth to third about halfway through the race. He then put Lawson on notice with a late surge around the final curve, but didn't have enough left to sustain it.
"Genesis almost stole that race as far as second place," Yount said. "He made that really bold move on the back stretch at 250 (meters) … Getting a medal — a huge improvement over last year — and he got a PR."
Madras returns all but five athletes next year (Ellis, Wienert, Josh Rodriguez, Cera Clay and Shae Yeahquo) and now that many have experienced the intensity of a varsity district meet, the Buffs have plenty to work with next season.
Manu, meanwhile, will compete in his first state track meet, which begins with the preliminary heat May 19 at Hayward Field.