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Freshman track athlete Kenzie Bigej just the latest in a long line of runners excelling for the blue and gold

On Wednesday, April 6, Canby hosted Three Rivers League foe West Linn and Mt. Hood Conference's Gresham for a three-way track and field meet. While the team scores were not posted on Athletic.net, there were several Canby athletes who snagged first place in their events.

Among those who won their events was freshman girls middle-distance runner Kenzie Bigej, who set personal records (PRs) in the 400-meter race and the 3,000-meter race. The latter was Bigej's first time competing in the 3,000, which makes her time of 10 minutes, 47.72 seconds that much more impressive.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Canby freshman Kenzie Bigej readies herself before the 400-meter race against West Linn and Gresham. Bigej won that race in a personal best time of 1:02.89, just four seconds off the school record.

According to the Canby school records page of Athletic.net, Bigej's time is the fourth fastest in school history. Bigej's race sits just a second behind the third-place record holder Katie Evans, who set her time as a junior in 2005, and just 22 seconds off school recordholder Izabela Kacalek who set the record as a junior in 2019.

Leaping into the upper echelon of Canby's record books is something Bigej is making a habit of. The freshman also is in the Canby top-10 times for the girls 800-meter race, 1,500-meter race, and just five seconds off McKayla Fricker's record setting time in the 400.

It's something she's aware of and a goal she's striving toward, according to Bigej.

"Yeah, I didn't know I was close to (Fricker) in this event (400), but I do check records in the 1,500 and the 3K and 800," Bigej said after winning the 400 on April 6. "I actually didn't think I was going to win this because my time was 1:03 and their times were like 59 (seconds), so I didn't think I was going to win this race, but I still went out with all I've got."

During the 400, Bigej was checking her watch to see if she was on pace to set a personal record, something middle distance running coach Patrick Roos told her to avoid in the future.

"Well, I checked my watch to see where I'm at," Bigej said. "(Roos) was yelling my time so I shouldn't have checked my watch, but that's why I checked it."

Bigej is the latest in a line of impressive middle-distance runners for the Canby Cougars girls track team. With her eyes set on records held by Fricker, Canby alumna and current track and field coach at St. Paul High School and Kacalek, Bigej knows that the work is just beginning.

"When these people set these records, they were at the top of their class when they were running, and they were way older than you, so you have to take that into account and (know) it's going to take some time," Bigej said. "So, I think it's just like starting out by getting a record for yourself and beating that continuously until you work your way up to that."

The freshman distance runner is putting in the hard work to cement her name in an all-time position. When she joined the middle-distance runners, it caught coach Roos off guard, but he saw her talent from the jump.

"Kenzie has been working out with the guys, we've been doing some 200 repeats, some middle-distance stuff, and she does the 3,000 tonight," Roos said after Bigej's 400 race. "This will be her first one, and I think she'll go sub-11. I told her, 'You clearly have a lot of talent, let it all out there and let's go in the first mile, 10 seconds, 15 seconds of your mile PR, and let's go from there. She works very hard, is very talented, and she's only ninth grade."

That talent is why she's already in sight of school records set three and 12 years ago, respectively.

Fricker, the Canby record holder in the girls 400, 400-meter relay split, and 800, ran her fastest times as a senior in 2010. According to the St. Paul track coach, the Canby High School records were posted up on the bulletin board near the track. It was something the top athletes on the track team could aspire to, and still is.

PMG FILE PHOTO: SETH GORDON - Canby alumna and current St. Paul High School cross country and track and field coach McKayla Fricker is the current record holder in the 400, 800 and a member of the record holding 4x400-meter relay team.

"Coach Millbrooke had the records posted in the hallway so we could look at the records every day," Fricker said. "I remember looking at the records quite often and just studying who held those records and how close I could get. So, every year I would get closer and closer and higher up on that list."

According to Fricker, it was the times the record was furthest from her mind that she was able to usurp them.

"I definitely knew (when it happened) because that was something I would look at," Fricker said. "But the mentality when you go race is that you prepare your race plan, and you prepare to be competitive, and your goal is usually to win. You're more focused on your race plan in the moment, not the end goal. … I know exactly what I need to do each 100 meters of that race and that's what I'm focusing on. When it comes down to that last finish, you're focused on how many people can you beat to get to that finish line."

When Fricker set her record in the 800-meters, a time of 2:11.71 at the 2010 Pacific Conference Championships, she immediately knew what had happened. Her family and coaches rushed over to celebrate her victory and record.

"When I ran that time, it was just shock," Fricker said.

Bigej is nipping at the heels of the runners who came before her. Whether it's Fricker in the 400 and 800, or Izabela Kacalek in the 1,500 and 3,000, the progression of times in the middle-distance events is inexorable.

PMG FILE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Canby alumna Izabela Kacalek currently holds the school records in the 1,500, 3,000 and 2K steeplechase.

Fricker had a few words of advice for the next generation of runners looking to break records.

"Don't make it the sole focus," Fricker said. "Know that it's there and that it's attainable and make it a goal, but when you go out to race, don't be thinking about it."

While coach Roos is excited about the potential for a new record to be set, he is urging patience.

"With Kenzie, we haven't talked about that," Roos said. "It's so early, she just started. It was kind of right before spring break when she just started running with us and we had already done two and a half weeks of practice and done one or two workouts."

When asked if it was in the back of her mind that she could set that school record, Bigej acknowledged that it was. But she knows that her coaches are wanting to see everyone improve on their own time.

"They probably think (setting a school record) is on everyone's mind, or like a lot of people probably think about it if they're doing really well in their events," Bigej said. "I think they want you (to) and to support you to try and set a record. Or even just not necessarily set a school record, but just to keep setting personal records."

One of the few constants throughout all the record setters is longtime Canby track and field coach Tom Millbrooke. According to him, the coaching and the workouts are a small part of the reason the records are set; it's due in large part to the athletes themselves.

"Like anything, 90% of the credit goes to the kids," Millbrooke said. "They do the work; they have the attitude and the effort and that kind of thing. I've been very fortunate to have kids like McKayla and (boys 1,500- and 3,000-meter record holder) Eric Logsdon, I think probably a lot of people could have been pretty successful coaching those kinds of people."

Other Canby athletes creeping up on their respective events records are junior Omar Villanueva and sophomore Cohen Hall in the 100-meter dash; Villanueva in the 200-meter dash; senior Tommy O'Neil in the 800-meters; senior Koby Kessler in the high jump; junior Treyson Wakefield in the triple jump; and senior Ashley Peterson in the 300-meter hurdles.

Bigej and her fellow competitors will compete next against Tualatin on April 13.


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