Benson boys take fast track to PIL title
Benson High track and field coach Leon McKenzie knew his boys sprinters would go a long way in determining the Techmen's chances of winning the Portland Interscholastic League championship on Friday.
McKenzie was also careful to not place added expectations on the group, while reminding them what a team title would mean for the school.
"I told them we're a slight favorite, but one mess-up can swing it either way," McKenzie said. "But if we decide we want to compete to the max, and not be scared to compete and let it all hang out, we can bust the form chart over and win this thing going away."
Behind 55 points scored in the 100 and 200 meters and 4x100 and 4x400 relays, Benson edged Lincoln, 128-115, to claim the crown at Franklin.
"It's been awhile since we won a city title," McKenzie said. "We know all of the things that have been hard at Benson. We're just trying to build this thing back up."
Sophomore Micah Williams swept the sprints, setting a personal record of 10:57 in the 100 and clocking 21.56 in the 200 to pace the Techmen.
Williams holds the fastest Class 6A time in the 200 and is third in the 100 entering next week's Oregon School Activities Association championships at Hayward Field.
McKenzie and Williams, who participated on both relays, said Benson's title was won by the other senior sprinters competing in the four events.
"We told them Micah was not going to win a city title by himself," McKenzie said. "He's only worth 20 points (in individual events). It's a whole team effort.
"A lot of these kids have been working out since October. It's nice to see their hard work come to fruition."
Williams entered the 6A championships in 2017 with the top mark in both the 100 and 200, but he sustained a hamstring injury after last season's district meet. He placed third in the 6A 100 in Eugene, then was unable to compete in the 200.
This time around, Williams says he concentrated on running smart in the PIL preliminary heats and tuning up for state.
"It's great to be healthy," he said, "because last year going in (to state), my injury messed everything else up."
In other action at the Wednesday/Friday PIL boys meet, the top two finishers in the distance events tapered their times more than 15 seconds below their personal records, while a fall at the finish line compromised the 800 final and the No. 2 seed in the javelin had to scratch from that event.
Those things opened up opportunities for other athletes to claim spots in the 6A meet.
Seniors Alec Slenning (Wilson) and Will Eaton (Franklin) entered the district meet with top-three 6A times in the 1,500 and 3,000. They were expected to battle for the
crowns, but both used both Friday's races as a tune-up. Eaton won in 4:09.88 and 8:30.78, with Slenning second in 8:34.79 and 4:10.03.
Eaton and Slenning were locked at the hip for the first three laps of the 1,500 before Slenning pushed out in front with 300 meters remaining. Eaton accelerated his kick during the final curve around the track to retake the lead, and held off his chief competitor at the finish line.
"I thought I could edge (Slenning) with speed, and that's what I was going for at the very end," Eaton said. "I just hope the same thing will work again. I'm looking at him as mostly my main competition at state."
"District is important, but all it is is a prelim for state," Slenning said. "My goal was to just get top two. I didn't really care what place. I didn't put too much pressure on it. The last 50 meters (in the 1,500), I kind of let up."
Senior Simon Walsh of Franklin won the 800 prelims on Wednesday in 1:58:31 and entered Friday's final with the eighth-fastest time in 6A. Fellow seniors Philip Quinton (Grant) and Joseph Justice (Benson) were less than a second behind Walsh going into the finals, owning the ninth and 10th-quickest marks in 6A, respectively.
In the final, Quinton led from start to finish, crossing the line at 1:56:31. The win was Quinton's first at a district meet. He was second in 2017.
"When we broke, I was in front, so I just went with it," Quinton said. "There were so many great guys in the race that it's easy to lead when you can feel the guys right on your shoulder. It was a great field -- four guys who can all run sub-1:56. I knew it was going to be exciting."
Walsh and Justice jockeyed down the stretch trying to secure the district's second automatic berth to the 6A meet, but Walsh tripped over his left leg attempting to extend his torso five meters in front of the finish line. The miscue enabled Justice to claim the runner-up spot in 1:57:40.
Senior Sawyer Christopher of Lincoln accounted for 35 points, winning the high jump, discus and javelin while placing fourth in the shot put.
Christopher owns the top mark in 6A in javelin (206 feet, 8 inches), though he was pushed earlier in the season by Cleveland's Roth Morgan, whose 187-10 PR ranks fifth in 6A.
Christopher entered Friday's event while competing in the high jump and shot simultaneously. He was prepared for a potential state championship preview with Morgan, but the senior from Cleveland scratched before the first flight. Morgan's absence allowed Christopher to coast with a winning throw of 181-0 and opened a spot for Christopher's teammate, junior Max Zimmer, to qualify for state.
Zimmer didn't throw the javelin until only a few months ago. He started the 2018 season with a best of 105-5 on March 20. He set a PR of 146-11 on his final throw of the district meet to advance to state.
"I went into this knowing (Morgan) was injured; I didn't know if he was going to scratch," Zimmer said. "It was my final throw, and I knew I had to beat (141-3), and I just had a big adrenaline rush and let it go."
Cardinals coach Eric Dettman cited Cristopher's leadership as being the difference in Zimmer's growth and the team's ability to hold off Wilson (112 points) for second place.
"Looking at some of the form charts, I thought we could probably finish 20-25 points behind Benson," Dettman said. "I walked up to Sawyer and said, 'We need you as a team. We need you to go win the high jump, the jav, the disc. We need you to place high in the shot put.' A lot of people with that kind of pressure will falter, and he just steps up every single time."
Grant's Savion Brown placed first in the 400 in 49:71 to vault into the top 10 of the 6A rankings.
Benson's Jaylen Russell swept the 110 and 300 hurdles in 15:39 and 41:83.
Cabree Figueroa of Roosevelt notched second- and first-place finishes in the long jump (21-1, behind the 22-4 1/2 of Cleveland junior Sean Neuman) and triple jump (PR 43-6) to give the Roughriders their lone placements on the top two podium sports.
Junior Keating Hinkley from Wilson cemented his berth in the 6A meet in the shot put with a winning throw 45-4 1/4.
Grant claimed fourth place with 98 points, while Franklin was fifth with 71, and Roosevelt took sixth with 57. Then came Cleveland (47), Jefferson (20) and Madison (13).