EUGENE — The Philomath High School girls track and field team got off to a stellar start at the Class 4A meet Friday at Hayward Field to put itself in position to defend its state championship.
Sophomore Anneka Steen scored big points in the high jump and triple jump and junior Ahnika Tryon had a third-place showing in the javelin to help Philomath to a solid hold on first place. The Warriors also got more points than anticipated in the 3,000-meter run with freshman Ana Candanoza’s second and sophomore Adele Beckstead’s third.
All four of those athletes have something in common — none of them competed in those events at last year’s state meet with three of them not even on the team. Steen capped a stellar freshman season by qualifying for state in the triple jump, long jump and with the 4-by-400 relay. Meanwhile, Candanoza was in middle school, Beckstead was focusing on tennis and Tryon limited her spring sports to the softball team.
In fact, Tryon only joined the track team midway through this season and had never even thrown the javelin until an April 18 intrasquad field day.
Steen tried high jump a couple of times as a freshman and even won a small meet at Monroe. But she didn’t get serious about it until this spring.
“Joe (Fulton) made me do it,” Steen laughed about her increased interest in the event. “I like it.”
Steen nearly ended up winning state in what came down to a duel against Klamath Union’s Andi Harmon. Both athletes cleared 5 feet, 1.75 inches but Harmon was awarded first place with fewer misses. Steen on two occasions at lower heights missed on her first two attempts.
“That makes it really hard — not making it on the first or second (attempt) because on the third you’re thinking, ‘I have to do this … I’m going over the bar,’” she said.
Steen followed up with fourth in the triple jump with a distance of 33-9.25. It’s the second straight year that she’s earned medals in the event.
Tryon joined the track team about six weeks ago and was immediately throwing the javelin over 100 feet. She threw 111-3.75 in Eugene for third place.
“Some people recommended it and thought I’d be good since I play a lot of sports,” Tryon said about joining the team. “I never expected that I could do this, so it was pretty cool to see how far I could come since the beginning of the season.”
That beginning of the season for Tryon wasn’t until the Meet of Champions on April 22 when she placed third. Her personal-best distance of 118-3 came a couple of weeks ago at the Wally Ciochetti Invitational and she took first at districts with a 113-9.
Those performances in the field events were important but the team’s biggest surprise might’ve been the Candanoza-Beckstead finish in the 3,000. La Grande’s Brooke Perry broke free to take first by a considerable margin but there was a torrid finish for second, third and fourth.
“It was pretty painful at the end but I felt like it was really good,” Beckstead said.
Candanoza had the lean at the finish line for second in 10:45.22, Beckstead was right beside her at 10:45.35 for third and cross-country champion Kyla Potratz of Phoenix had to settle for fourth at 10:45.95.
“Joe told me not to go out too fast because I can usually run a pretty decent second half of the race,” Candanoza said. “As long as I keep the first half at a nice pace and that makes the second half easier and I can do more with it.”
Candanoza wasn’t even an automatic qualifier for the state meet with third place at districts and got in on a wildcard entry. As for Beckstead, she also ran a personal-best time.
“I tried to start out keeping my own pace and then push more after the first couple of laps,” Beckstead said. “I didn’t want to go out too fast or anything.”
Philomath advanced four runners out of prelims into Saturday’s finals with Janice Hellesto in the 100 and 200, Ellie Morton in the 100 and Natalie Dunn in the 400 while running her best-ever time in the event.
Ingrid Hellesto missed finals by one place with ninth in the 100 hurdles. Candanoza was 10th in the 800.
As a team, Philomath has 33 points to lead Klamath Union by 13. But the team expected to challenge the Warriors for the championship is La Grande, which is sitting in fourth with 12 points.
For the boys, seniors Ben Hernandez and Mateo Candanoza both placed in the 3,000 and senior Micah Matthews picked up a point in the pole vault.
Hernandez placed fifth in the meet’s longest race with a time of 9:01.54. He said he got tripped up with about 150 meters to go.
“It looks pretty even all the way throughout,” Hernandez said while checking his splits. “I kind of just stayed the same without the pickup and couldn’t really move with the kids ahead of me.”
His time was a PR, just over two-tenths of a second faster than what he ran at districts in Sweet Home.
“The first mile was actually exactly what I wanted,” Hernandez said. “On that third lap, I probably got too excited and moved out too quick.”
Candanoza, who qualified as a wild card entry, placed sixth.
“I felt good pretty much through the whole thing and then on the last lap, I kind of dropped off,” said Candanoza, who was one of the athletes on the squad who got a buzz cut in preparation for state.
Matthews equaled his PR in the pole vault by clearing 12-6, which was good for eighth place.
Qualifying for finals out of prelims were Matthews in the 110 hurdles, Warwick Bushnell in both the 200 and 400 and Simon King in the 800.
Nixon Mooney had tough luck in a tight field in the 400 and missed qualifying by one-hundredth of a second and ended up 10th. Matthews was 10th in the 300 hurdles.
The Warriors as a team are sitting in 10th place but have several point-scoring opportunities coming up to keep their hopes alive for a trophy as one of the top four teams.
Day 2 of the state meet Saturday begins at 9:30 a.m. with field events. The running events get started at 12:30 p.m.