Clackamas girls run away with another Mt. Hood district track title
The Clackamas Cavaliers girls' team packed some lofty expectations into Wednesday's finals of the Mt. Hood Conference track and field championships at Gresham High School.
Then they went out and crushed it.
Led by seniors Carlie Bateman, Alexa Hayes, Brooklyn James, Alyssa Kawata, Ujunwa Nwokoma, and Natalie Pihulak, the Cavaliers scored points in all 10 running events and six of seven field events and ran away with the girls' team title for the second season in a row, this time by a 158-118.5 margin over runner-up Centennial.
Clackamas got shutout in the javelin, which was a minor footnote in an otherwise brilliant team performance that saw the Cavaliers secure 12 automatic berths into the OSAA Class 6A state championships beginning Friday at Hayward Field in Eugene.
"Oh, my goodness, it's crazy," said James, who won both the 400-meter dash and the 800 and ran a leg on the Cavaliers' two winning relay teams. "I feel like everyone just had such a good day today.
"And there were so many surprises with people who we didn't think would go to state and they're going. What a way to pull out a team win."
Talk about peaking at the right time.
The team performance was peppered with personal best, most notably Nwokoma in the 100 and long jump, Taberah Schmidt in the 200 and 400, Pihulak in the 1,500, Kailee Yoshishige in both hurdles races, Isabelle Paylor in the shot put and discus, and Kawata in the pole vault.
Some of those marks also are likely to earn Clackamas a handful of wildcard berths to Eugene, which could bring the Cavaliers total state meet entries to as many as 14 athletes in 14 events, counting alternates in the two relay races.
"I'm just overwhelmed with joy for these kids," Clackamas coach Emma Vaughn said. "This is just a testament to the commitment these kids have put in during the offseason.
"We came into this season and there was just a different feel. I think last year, it was like, 'Oh, it can happen.' And this year is more, 'It will happen.'"
It helps to have a strong group of seniors with state-meet experience helping set the tone from day one.
"Every day was competitive in practice," Vaughn said. "Every kid is competing with each other to get better with the idea that, 'This is what we are going to accomplish.' That's where we're at right now.
"I feel like my biggest thing as a head coach is to try and change the culture to be more competitive and to want to be champions. And we're slowly but surely taking on that mindset. And it's every kid in the program."
Follow the leader
Hayes, the Oregon State-bound distance runner, won Tuesday's 3,000-meter run in 10 minutes, 56.63 seconds, and then came back in Wednesday's 1,500 and led an impressive 1-2 Clackamas finish.
What was impressive wasn't so much that Hayes won in 4:56.25, but that Pihulak, seeded fifth going into the race, finished second in a personal best 4:58.57, trimming more than 13 seconds off her previous PR.
"That was amazing," Hayes said. "I'm so proud of Natalie right now. That was our plan going into the race was to go 1-2 right there. I was so happy when I turned around and saw that she was right there."
There were 21 girls entered in the race, but it quickly turned into to a four-person battle with Central Catholic's Hayley Harrison, Barlow's Jenessa Teachout, Hayes, and Pihulak almost tripping over one another for the first two laps.
With one lap to go, Hayes surged to the front.
"I knew I had to start kicking early, so that's what happened," Hayes said. "It felt pretty good. I was sore from Tuesday's race still, but it was fine."
When Hayes made her move, Pihulak tried to go with her, while Harrison and Teachout struggled to keep pace.
"Our coaches talked to us before and said we had to believe that we could finish 1-2, so that's what we went out to do," Pihulak said. "When I saw Lexi go, I knew that was my time to go too, so I just tried to stick with her as best I could, hoping that the other girls wouldn't."
Harrison faded to third place in 5:02 and Teachout finished fourth in a personal best 5:04.33.
Could that race have gone any better for the Cavaliers?
"No, it really couldn't," said Pihulak, who shattered her previous best of 5:12.30. "It was perfect. I really wanted to go sub-5 minutes, so I got what I wanted."
Among the other Clackamas girls' highlights:
-- Schmidt, the junior sprint specialist, broke 60 seconds in the 400 for the first time and finished second behind James in 59.60. She also placed fourth in the 200 with another personal best of 26.13.
-- Yoshishige, a sophomore, ran personal bests of 15.51 in the 100 hurdles and 46.77 in the 300 hurdles during Tuesday's preliminaries, then came back with times of 15.19 and 46.62 to finish second in both races during Wednesday's finals.
-- In the shot put, Paylor popped a throw of 39 feet, 1 1/4 inches on her final attempt of the finals and climbed past defending district champion Jade Pierce of Central Catholic to finish second. Before that last throw, Paylor's best was a mark of 36-9 3/4, which was more than a foot shy of the 38-6 automatic state qualifying standard. Paylor, a junior, also had a PR in the discus, finishing seventh with a mark of 105-8.
-- Kawata, the Cavs' senior pole vaulter whose previous personal best was 10-6, cleared the state qualifying standard of 10-8 on her second attempt, cleared 10-11 on her first attempt, cleared 11-2 on her third attempt, and cleared 11-5 on her second attempt before missing on three tries at 11-8. Kawata finished third in the competition behind Centennial's Savannah Schultz and Sierra Schultz, who both cleared 11-8 -- Savannah on her first attempt, Sierra on her third.
-- In the long jump, Nwokoma met the state qualifying standard on his first jump with a personal best 17-8 1/2 and finished second behind defending champion Peace Igbonagwam of Reynolds, who jumped 18-1. Nwokoma also placed fourth in the 100 in 12.77 -- another PR.
-- Clackamas' short relay team of Yoshishige, Nwokoma, Schmidt, and James won in a season-best 48.60, which currently ranks as the second-fastest time this season among Class 6A squads behind North Salem (48.55).
-- The Cavs' long relay of Yoshishige, Bateman, Schmidt, and James also ran a season-best 4:01.46, currently the third-fastest time this season among 6A teams behind Jesuit (3:56.26) and Tigard (4:01.35).
James, running despite a head cold that hit her on Tuesday, saved one of her best runs for last, erasing a 30-meter gap and overtaking Central Catholic's Kate Marron on the final leg of the 4x400 relay.
"I was kind of upset with some of my times but other than that … I mean, four wins feels good," James said. "I was looking for a PR in the 800, something that was two seconds faster or something like that. And I was hoping to go 56 seconds in the 400, but I still have state and I'm hopeful the times will come there."