Track: Cougars send seven girls to state meet
Natali Herinckx was a freshman the last time Gervais High School qualified an athlete to the State Track and Field Championships in 2015. Though she didn't join the the high school track team until her sophomore year, Herinckx has been a diligent member of the athletic community in her four years at GHS, making it a fitting honor for the senior to break the streak and be the first Cougar to qualify for the state meet in three years.
Herinckx was one of seven athletes from Gervais to punch their tickets to the state meet after qualifying at the PacWest Conference Track and Field District Championships on Thursday and Friday in Mount Angel.
Herinckx finished second in the high jump to qualify for state and will be joined individually by freshman Katie Hanson, who finished second in both the 200-meter dash and the 400. Hanson was also a member of the Cougars' 4x100 relay team — along with fellow freshmen Ashley Vallejo Marin, Judith Santos and Mary Davidson — who qualified for state by a fraction of a second. Together, along with relay alternates Araceli Vasquez and Alyssa Ventura, the Cougars boast their biggest state championship contingent in years.
"It's special for me," Gervais coach Josh Crawford said about Herinckx's accomplishment. "She's actually one of the two or three kids that got me interested in it last year to apply for the job before it opened last season. Her obviously kicking for me too, we had a pretty good bond."
Herinckx played dual roles in the fall athletic season, splitting time between soccer while kicking for Crawford on the football team on Friday nights.
On Thursday, Herinckx gave the track and field team a dramatic show in the high jump in her qualifying event. After Salem Academy's Kara Standridge won the district title by clearing 4-10, it left Herinckx and Salem Academy's Chloe Baker battling it out for the second qualifying berth.
Both had finished tied after clearing 4-04 in the same number of attempts. In order to determine the winner, the officials set the bar at 4-06 and let both athletes make a single attempt at it. If they both failed, the bar was lowered an inch until one athlete was able to clear the height.
Baker had the advantage by virtue of clearing 4-06 earlier in the year, while Herinckx's career best was 4-04. But neither was able to clear the height, dropping the bar down to 4-05. Herinckx was able to barely clear the height, brushing the bar with the fabric of her shorts to set a new PR. When Baker clipped the bar on her attempt, it solidified Herinckx as the PacWest Conference's second qualifier in the event.
It will be a tough field of competitors at the state meet, where the other 10 qualifiers all cleared 4-10 and the bar starts at 4-08, but Herinckx is simply determined to represent the Cougar track team with pride.
"That's what she's talked to me about the last two years," Crawford said. "She wants to do her best."
Not to be outdone for theatrics, the girls' all-freshman relay team was able to make its way to state by virtue of a single step, beating the Salem Academy team by 0.22 seconds with a time of 54.50.
Vallejo Marin started off strong, making a good pass off to Hanson on the second leg. The Blanchet Catholic team quickly put distance ahead of the field, making it a two-way race between the Cougars and Crusaders.
Despite an excellent handoff between Hanson and Santos, the Crusaders were able to draw ahead by a step or two, leaving it up to Davidson to make up the distance on the final leg.
"I saw them coming down," Crawford said. "I know she likes to be motivated, so I started screaming to her to get there. I don't think she realized we had that chance to go until the last 25 meters."
Hanson added a runner-up finish in the 200 at 27.98 and again in the 400, setting a new PR in 1:01.73. The latter event is where Crawford thinks Hanson has the greatest chance at finishing on the podium.
Crawford was an assistant coach at Molalla and saw 10-time state champion Claire Thomas compete for the Indians. He thinks that Hanson fits the mold of the kind of drive that made Thomas one of the best athletes in Molalla history.
"I put Katie up there with her in terms of competitiveness and athleticism," he said. "She is an amazing runner. I haven't been in awe of watching someone run since her."
While the girls will represent the Cougars, the boys were shut out of at the district qualifier, finishing the careers of seniors Noel Vasquez, Larry Andrade, Jonathan Bartolo, Dakota Lucas and Oscar Sanchez.
It was a bittersweet ending for Crawford and Vasquez, who worked together on the football team in addition to Crawford's role as a basketball assistant and as track coach.
"Noe's my guy — I talk to him about everything," Crawford said. "I pick his brain about things I could do better as a coach. We have probably one of the closer bonds of kids who are here at Gervais between him and I."
Vasquez made the final in both the 100 and 200, but was unable to break through a crowded field, finishing eight and seventh, respectively, in each event. Bartolo finished fifth in the 300 hurdles, one spot ahead of Andrade.
While Crawford is sad to see his oldest athletes leave, he's happy to see the them leave the program better than when he arrived, paving the way for more Gervais athletes to make their name at state in the years to come.
"The seniors are leaving a legacy that they started the last couple years with track that is going to blossom into something great in the next couple years," Crawford said.
The 2018 3A State Track and Field Championships will be held at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field in Eugene on Thursday and Friday.