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Crook County loses just seven athletes to graduation after Cowboys second place finish at this year's state championships

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Victor Ramirez celebrates after winning a state championship in the 400-meter dash. Ramirez, a senior, also placed third in the 200 and anchored the school's fourth-place 4x100 relay team and the 4x400 relay team, which finished second, setting a school record in the process. Ramirez was one of seven seniors on this year's Crook County track and field team.The Crook County High School boys track and field team just finished their best season ever.

After winning all but one invitational all season, the Cowboys swept through the Tri-Valley League Championships, winning their fourth consecutive league title, then went on to finish second at the state championships.

"Man, it was a good season," Crook County head coach Ernie Brooks said. "A great season for our boys being four-time district champions, and we had the highest placing we've ever had at state."

Although not as strong, the Cowgirls also had a memorable season, finishing second at the league championships, just two points behind the champion Gladstone Gladiators.

"Our girls competed and absolutely went above and beyond where we thought they were going to be," Brooks said. "We have teams that train hard together, work hard together, and you see it on the track. Our hardest competition is our practice, so they are used to it when they get to the big meets."

Not only did both teams excel, Crook County loses just a handful of competitors to graduation. Not a single member of the Cowgirl team graduates, while the Cowboys will lose just seven athletes.

However, those athletes will be missed.

Foreign exchange student Johan Becht, from Denmark, tried a little of everything. Although he didn't compete at the district meet, Brooks said that he quickly picked up events that he had never tried before and was a huge asset to the team.

Luke Flegel was injured during football season but still competed, spending most of the season throwing with his off hand. With the setback, Flegel also failed to make it to the district meet, but Brooks said that his leadership on and off the practice field was invaluable.

Vicente Ramirez also failed to make it to the district championships and competed sparingly due to health issues, but he still regularly attended practice, and Brooks praised him for his positive attitude.

Anthony Lesch set personal records throughout the year in his hurdle races and came out of nowhere to place fifth at district in the high hurdles.

Casey Wagner also earned a place at district, finishing fifth in the javelin.

The remaining two seniors will be sorely missed.

Tyler Lawson, who made it to the state meet in the distance events each of his first three years at CCHS, switched to sprints for his final season, and had a major impact on the team.

Lawson finished fourth at state in the 400-meter dash, as well as running on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams at the state meet.

The 4x100 team — which included fellow senior Victor Ramirez, junior Dominic Langley and freshman Zachary Guthrie — finished fourth at state, while the 4x400 team of Lawson, Ramirez, junior Noah Chaney and Langley finished second at state with a school record time of 3:26:49.

"That was more medals than he got in the previous three years, and he (Lawson) really came through," Brooks said.

Meanwhile, the senior whose efforts will be missed the most is Victor Ramirez, who posted some of the best marks in school history. He won the state 400-meter dash title with a time of 50.28, blowing by the competition in the final 50 meters.

Ramirez set the school record in the 200 during the prelims on Friday at the state meet with a time of 22.27, then placed third in the finals despite running in flats instead of spikes.

"Victor is an absolute competitor," Brooks said. "That kid hates to lose."

Chaney also set a school record, leaping 14-09 in the pole vault. Although he did not have his best performance at state, he still finished second in the event.

Other Cowboy placers at the state meet included Guthrie in both the long jump and 100-meter dash, Langley in the high jump, Jonas Rice in the 110 hurdles and pole vault, Tyler Humeston in the shot put, and Cade Catterson in the 3,000.

Although the Cowgirls didn't have the depth that the Cowboys had, they still found a way to make an impact at the state meet.

The 4x400 relay team of Gracie Kasberger, Alyson Thomas, Maggie Ramoss and Mckinzee Mode finished seventh at state, while Faith Wagner tied for sixth in the pole vault.

However, it was Kenna Woodward who had the greatest impact for the Cowgirls.

Woodward threw a career-best 40-00.75 to finish second in the shot put, then came back to finish fourth in the discus.

"Kenna had a great year in the shot, and I think that she could win it next year," Brooks said. "She could be right there in the discus next year, and our 4x400 relay team should be there as well as Wagner, Kasberger in the 400, and we have some hurdlers coming up as well."

Although he is high on the work ethic of his athletes, Brooks also noted that it was the great work of his assistant coaches and volunteers that made the team's success possible.

"Just talk about our volunteers and our parents," he said. "They do an amazing job. Our volunteers that help put on the meets, they are the foundation of our program, and they are the reason that when we run meets people want to be there."

With so many returning athletes, the team is expected to be strong again next year. However, Crook County moves up to Class 5A next season, and that could have a major impact on the team's success.

"We've looked at it, and instead of getting 20 to state, it will cut us in half. We are going to get 10, or maybe 12-13, it just depends on our relays."

Brooks added that he believes that the team will still be competitive despite the challenges of moving up a classification.

"We are going to be the smallest 5A team out there," he said. "But guess what? We are going to come out with a chip on our shoulder. That's what we have done this year. We talked about when things happen are you going to rise up or fall down, and our team has risen up each time. So I don't see anything different happening."

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