Reigning 4A boys 800 state champ ready to make run at another title
Gladstone's Konnor Hathaway comes across as a happy-go-lucky type by nature, but the senior middle-distance runner was especially giddy Saturday.
He had just routed the field in the boys 800-meter run during Saturday's 14th annual Dick Baker Invitational, finishing on his home track in a season-best 1 minute, 58.30 seconds to win by almost a full seven seconds at wind-swept Dick Baker Stadium.
The run was the first sub-2-minute finish of the season for the reigning Class 4A state champion and also vaulted Hathaway to the top of this season's 4A state rankings in the 800 with the Tri-Valley Conference district championships only two weeks away.
"Was it 1:58?" Hathaway asked. "That's what I heard. I'm happy about that.
"This whole season, I've just been running 2:03s and I was starting to think, 'Why can't I beat that?' So, I put a goal in my mind today to run under a minute my first lap and then give it what I had left on the second lap."
"Luckily, this time, it worked out."
Hathaway had been pointing toward Saturday's meet for sometime, as had Gladstone distance coach Patrick Irwin, who held Hathaway out of the 1,500 so he could "go into an 800 fresh, see if we could get under 2 minutes, and let the rest of the state know that he's still as strong as he was last year."
A strong headwind on the back straightaway that turned into an equally strong tailwind on the front straight was a bit of a concern for all runners on Saturday, but the bigger question in the boys' 800 was this: Was there anyone else in the field to push Hathaway?
Hathaway went into the race as the top seed with a previous season best of 2:03.08, followed by Valley Catholic's Jackson Miller (2:03.62), Seaside's (2:05.99), Gladstone's Derek Johnson (2:08.01), North Bend's Martin Godinez (2:09.21), and Putnam's Elijah Matveyev (2:09.28).
"After we saw the heat sheets and knowing what the emphasis was for today, I told Konnor, 'You're probably going to have to do this on your own and you need to be the one to set the pace on that first lap, otherwise it's not going to happen,'" Irwin said. "He's had enough races this year where he's had a little bit of everything thrown at him — some where the competition has been there and others like today where he hasn't been pushed but he still has run well."
Hathaway did what he wanted to off the start, rushing to the front of the pack and turning the first lap in 59 seconds with Miller, the Valley Catholic, running a close second.
"Once I heard '59,' I was told myself, 'All right, this is it,'" Hathaway said. "And when I felt the headwind on the back straightaway, I just wanted to push even harder."
Hathaway separated from the pack even before he hit the back straight for the second time and then kept telling himself that there was someone right on his heels all the way to the finish.
Actually, Seaside's Card finished a distant second in 2:05.28 and Putnam's Matveyev ran a personal best 2:08.51 to take third.
But nobody pushed Hathaway the second lap. What he did over the last 400 meters, he did on his own.
"I guess it's good to get in my head that there's someone behind me the whole time, even if nobody is there," Hathaway said. "I'm just glad I ran the time today. It tells me that everything I've been working on is really starting to pay off."
Irwin still sees room for improvement and said a realistic next goal would be for Hathaway to make a run at the personal best 1:57.81 that he set during last year's state finals in Eugene.
"I think he could run a few seconds faster and see the 1:56s," Irwin said. "It's going to take even a little bit stronger first lap, and as we kind of wind things down and let his body rest so he's sharp for district and state, I think he'll be able to go out a little bit quicker and still hold it like he did today.
"The thing I like about Konnor is that he can run well on his own, but when that competition is there, another gear comes out. That competitive drive that he runs with is something I can't coach. It's just something that he has inside of him, which is what I saw last year at state.
"If that's the position we're in again in a few weeks, I'm confident that he will respond as best as he can and we'll see what happens."
Irwin said the plan the May 10-11 Tri-Valley championships at North Marion High School is to run Hathaway in the 1,500, 800, and 1,600 relay. Hathaway is likely to qualify for state in all three events, but it's unlikely he will run all three at state.
"At district, if we can finish 1-2-3 in the 1,500 like we're seeded right now, then I'll take my other two guys and let Konnor go into the 800 fresh," Irwin said. "The 800 has a talented field this year and he's going to need every bit of what he had today to repeat as state champion, or at least give himself a chance to repeat.
"There's going to be some familiar faces as well as some new faces in there and they're going to be tightly bunched, so certainly anything can happen. Between now and then, we'll do what we can go get there and give him a shot to repeat, but having been there before, there's a lot to be said for that experience."
Is there a time that Hathaway has in mind as an end-of-season goal in the 800?
"I haven't thought about it, really," he said in typical happy-go-lucky fashion. "I'm just hoping to PR."