EUGENE — In position waiting for the starter pistol to sound in the 110-meter high hurdles on Saturday afternoon, junior Micah Matthews realized that he hadn’t set up his blocks right.
“The angle on my footing was a little bit incorrect but I made the best of it and it turned out to be a pretty good race,” Matthews said during an interview under the Hayward Field stands after picking up his medal at the Class 4A State Track and Field Championships.
PHOTOS OF PHILOMATH HIGH ATHLETES COMPETING AT HAYWARD FIELD
A collection of Philomath High boys track and field photos from the Class 4A state meet in Eugene.
It turns out that it was a very, very good race for the Philomath High School standout with a first-place finish by close to four-tenths of a second over the runner-up. Matthews glided over the hurdles for a time of 15.76 seconds — one-tenth of a second shy of his personal best on a windy day in Eugene.
“There have been a few critical aspects of my race that I’ve figured out … block starts and height over hurdle and a few other things that I’ve been able to figure out over the past couple of weeks that have revolutionized this race for me,” he said. “It’s been really, really fun to figure things out and finally see things coming together.”
Leading up to the 110 finals, Matthews just tried to stay calm.
“I made sure I slept well, just tried to relax, mostly stayed in my seat in the stands and didn’t move too much,” he said, adding that he started moving around and warming up about an hour before race time.
Matthews had pretty much cleared his mind of the previous day’s events and didn’t allow a mishap in the 300-meter hurdles prelims shake his confidence. Matthews was in position to qualify for finals in the longer event but he fell over the final hurdle and did a somersault on the track.
“There was a little bit of concern about what if I hit a hurdle, they’re kinda heavy, they take people down a lot,” he said. “That was only the second hurdle that I’ve ever fallen on in my career so I was feeling pretty confident about it.”
Matthews put the moment in a positive light.
“How often are you going to get to try to save a race on Hayward Field in front of a couple thousand people?” he said. “That’s the memory that I think I’ll remember more than winning state.”
Head coach Joe Fulton saw an athlete who was very focused.
“He’s seeing with his head down — he was not going to be denied in those 110 hurdles,” Fulton said.
Besides the two hurdle events, Matthews also qualified for state in the pole vault and he finished 13th at a height of 11 feet, 6 inches.
Matthews still has another year in the program and said he’ll definitely be back in three of his four events — high jump being the fourth. But he may explore an alternative event to the pole vault.
“That event takes the most time to practice and to hone your skills and really be at a state-competing level for it,” he said. “That’s just time I don’t have to try to do well in my other events.”
Philomath was in contention for a team trophy for much of the afternoon but ended up seventh with 37 points, finishing six points out of fourth place. Marshfield won the team title with Henley a close second, Siuslaw third and Mazama fourth.
Besides Matthews, the Warriors scored points with their exceptional group of middle- and long-distance runners. Junior Brody Bushnell placed third in the 1,500 and fourth in the 800. Junior Mateo Candanoza was fourth in the 3,000 and fifth in the 1,500. Junior Ben Hernandez placed sixth in the 1,500.
The 4-by-400-meter relay placed fifth with junior Nixon Mooney, Hernandez, freshman Warwick Bushnell and Brody Bushnell all taking turns with the baton.
The older of the Bushnell brothers has consistently been among the best in his running events and hoped to have a little bit of a stronger finish at state but he’s been having health issues and hasn’t been able to fully get back to his fastest times.
“Coming in here I wasn’t having the best season that I wanted to have,” Bushnell said. “I got sick and then just kind of felt fatigued for a while but with all of that going on, I feel like I did better (than expected).”
Bushnell ran with teammates Candanoza and Hernandez for a good stretch of the 1,500 before starting to pull away. He finished with a time of 4:06.29 with Candanoza crossing at 4:08.75 and Hernandez at 4:08.79 — both personal-best times for the latter two.
Nobody could keep pace with Valley Catholic senior Henry Tierney, who ran a 3:53.54.
In the 800, Bushnell placed fourth in 1:58.86, which was his best time in the event this season.
Competing in high-profile events like the Oregon Relays at Hayward and the Nike/Jesuit Twilight Relays helps Bushnell reach his desired level of competitiveness.
“Those are the best competitions that I could possibly get and so it’s a good opportunity to learn,” he said. “Because if I want to run at the next level in college, that’s how the racing will be so it’s great to have that experience.”
Candanoza’s fourth-place finish in the 3,000 came on Friday when he came in with a season-best time of 9:00.46. The performance was just shy of his personal-best of 8:59.53, which he ran at last year’s state meet.
The 4-by-400 relay lost sophomore Simon King to illness but Mooney stepped in as an effective alternate. Mooney ran the first leg followed by Hernandez, Warwick Bushnell and Brody Bushnell, covering the distance in 3:32.96 for fifth.
Brody Bushnell said it was a fun experience competing at the University of Oregon’s historic and recently upgraded Hayward Field. He first ran on the track earlier this season at that Oregon Relays meet.
“That just made me even more hyped to come here for state,” he said. “I feel like a lot of Oregon kids probably take it for granted and how we have this really good facility. It’s really cool.”
Fulton said a lot of talent returns next season but to challenge for a team trophy, some of those other events will need to produce points. He put in his best pitch to get other student-athletes in the program.
“We need to convince Philomath High School football players to come out and give us some sprinters and throwers,” he said. “We’ll provide the distance runners … we just need more help.”