The Philomath High girls track team poses for a photo after winning the 4A team title at the state track meet Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

EUGENE — The points for the Philomath High girls track and field team just kept piling up all afternoon — Janice Hellesto in the 100, long jump and 200, Natalie Dunn in the 400, Adele Beckstead in the 1,500, Ellie Morton in the 100, Madison Schaffer in the pole vault and both the short and long relays.

The rest of the Class 4A field simply couldn’t handle the barrage of athletes that the Warriors were throwing at them Saturday at Hayward Field. Combined with the fast start in the finals that took place on Day 1, the Warriors rolled to the state title by racking up 90 points and beating out runner-up La Grande by 27 points.

“I’m just so proud to be a part of Philomath, especially coming off of that one last year,” said PHS sophomore Janice Hellesto, who was named the Most Outstanding Athlete for the 4A girls. “This year, we’re holding on to those standards and I think every year as we get in new freshmen, we’re just going to improve more and more. I think it’s so cool to be part of a team that knows what’s good and can be confident and proud.”

PHS coach Joe Fulton had tremendous confidence that the team would be able to hold up the state title trophy again this year.

“They knew they could do it and they just came through, every one of them,” he said. “It was just a fantastic performance. I’m so proud of them — they’ll go for a three-peat next year.”

Fulton’s outlook on the future as a potential 4A dynasty has to be positive with 11 of the 12 state-qualifying athletes being underclassmen and eligible to compete again next year. Plus, the program has several others that could move up and become part of the point-producing machine.

“We should be able to do it again the next couple of years,” Fulton said moments before taking the podium with his team to accept the top trophy.

Philomath’s final point total of 90 is an exceptional number for a state meet and surpassed Fulton’s projection of 82. Finishing behind La Grande’s 63 was Scappoose in third with 47 and Henley in fourth with 38.

“There wasn’t a ton of surprises because we kind of figured where we’d be playing and the girls stepped up and knew what they were supposed to do,” Fulton said. “We had a couple of kids that had tough days but not too many.”

Philomath High’s girls track and field program has now produced six state team title winners — the first two in 1990 and 1991 under Fern Robinson and the last four under Joe Fulton in 1995, 2010, 2022 and now 2023.

Philomath’s Janice Hellesto won the long jump on her final attempt with a distance of 17-7. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Hellesto’s shining moment in long jump

State champions know how to come through under pressure with their backs to the wall and Hellesto provided the perfect example in the long jump.

Hellesto held the lead at 17 feet even in the long jump through the first four attempts but was passed up first by The Dalles senior Zoe Dunn by three-fourths of an inch and then by Marist Catholic junior Chloe Chase’s 17-3-1/2. Those marks remained in place atop the leaderboard into the sixth and final round.

Hellesto came through with a jump of 17-7.

Philomath’s Janice Hellesto poses for a photo with OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber after she was named the 4A girls’ Most Outstanding Athlete. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

“I’m warming up (before the final jump) and my coach is like, ‘get your knees high, get your knees high,’” Hellesto said. “The entire time I’m just praying to God — ‘please let me have a good jump all for You but I really want this.’”

Hellesto then had a moment of panic.

“I jumped and I totally thought I had scratched because I felt that hardness (on the track surface) but I PR’d,” Hellesto said, beating the previous best that she had set at districts by a half-inch.

“After doing so much to pop off a winning jump on her final attempt, that was pretty pleasant because she was pretty upset about tripping just before the finish line (in the 4-by-100 relay),” Fulton said.

Making Hellesto’s accomplishment in the long jump even more impressive is that she didn’t really start focusing on the event until the last four weeks of the season.

“I took a look at that and after it became quite obvious that she was pretty good, I thought with what she could do in the long jump, 100 and 200 that we could pretty much seal the deal,” Fulton said about the decision on which four events she would compete in. “We could get more points than if we kept her on the (4-by-400) relay and I knew our girls would still do well in the relay. They finished fourth today and so it was a tradeoff but it was a net gain for sure.”

Philomath’s Janice Hellesto finished second in the 200 with a time of 26.08. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Hellesto competed in the long jump in only two meets before districts in winning performances at Junction City and Cascade. As a freshman in 2022, she did the long jump on a somewhat regular basis during the regular season but competed in the 200, 400 and relays at districts and state.

“I hadn’t done the long jump in like a year and it was something — I think it was at a JV meet — that maybe I wanted to do again,” Hellesto said. “So we tried it out and I jumped pretty good.” 

After Hellesto won this year’s conference meet to qualify for state, Fulton had to make a final decision. And the rest is history.

Hellesto also had a second-place performance in the 200 with a time of 26.08 and was third in the 100 at 12.64. In the 100 final, Hellesto and Morton, who finished fifth in 12.95, had lane assignments next to each other.

“I’ve had Ellie in most of my events today and we’re like buddies throughout this whole thing … we have each other’s backs,” Hellesto said. “It was fun during the 100 — I’m not used to something that short so it’s a little stressful but the 200 felt good, felt strong.”

Hellesto excels in the 200 with the momentum she finds on the curve and the overall sprint over a longer distance.

“I love the 200,” she said. “I really like being able to feel powerful and strong for longer than just 100 meters.”

Philomath’s Natalie Dunn held off Crook County’s Natalia Crass at the finish line to win the 400-meter dash. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Dunn’s run to glory in the 400

Dunn earned the top medal in the 400-meter dash with her fastest-ever time over that distance. It’s been a strong event for the PHS sophomore from the first time she stepped onto a varsity high school track.

Over the two-day stretch of the state meet, Dunn actually took a different approach with how she wanted to run the race. On Friday during prelims, she broke her personal record with a time of 58.95. Then in the finals Saturday, she took more than a half-second off.

“A lot of times I pace off other people but this week, I was like, ‘I’m just going to run my race and then go as hard as I want and try to just keep it,’” Dunn said. “That’s how I ran the last few days.”

Fulton sees an athlete that’s motivated to leave it all out on the track.

“I tell you, she does not want to be denied,” Fulton said. She races with her heart in it … great kid.”

Going out with a strategy that’s pretty much the opposite of what she had been doing has obviously worked well. Dunn laughed that she’s “going as hard as I can in the first 2(00) and seeing what I have left to take me to the finish line.”

Down the final stretch, Crook County sophomore Natalia Crass challenged Dunn and nearly caught her. Crass was second in 58.51, just under two-tenths of a second behind her.

“There’s a point where you just can’t tell what’s going on around you and you’re just going for the finish line,” Dunn said when asked if she could feel pressure from Crass.

Dunn’s victory comes a year after finishing second when she ran a 59.15 at state as a freshman. She said that previous experience served her well while preparing for her appearance this year but also mentioned how she’s pushed by teammates.

“We’re such a supportive team and everybody’s so nice and pushing each other to do their best in everything,” Dunn said. “It helps because a lot of other people have that same mindset so you’re able to run hard.”

Philomath’s Anneka Steen tries to maintain her lane after receiving the baton from Melea Lattin during the 4-by-400-meter relay. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Other points adding to the total

In the 4-by-100 relay, Scappoose appeared to overtake Philomath over the final 25 meters to win by a little more than a tenth of a second. Still, it was the Warriors’ best time in the event this season at 49.98 seconds, bettering the 50.25 they ran at Junction City in late April. And it was 0.72 faster than the team’s 2022 time at state, which also resulted in second place.

Morton came out of the blocks and positioned the team well by making up most of the stagger before handing off to Dunn. Senior Ingrid Hellesto ran the third leg before handing off to Janice Hellesto for the final 100 meters.

There was a bit of a stumble at the finish and the team ended up second but the foursome became just the sixth in school history to break 50 seconds.

The 4-by-400 relay with sophomore Melea Lattin, sophomore Anneka Steen, Ingrid Hellesto and Dunn placed fourth in 4:10.26. The group had an anxious moment on the first handoff when Lattin started to fall while getting the baton to Steen, who had to maintain her balance to stay in the lane. On the final leg, Dunn had a strong finish with a 58.4 split.

Philomath senior Ingrid Hellesto carries the baton in the 4-by-400 relay. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

The Warriors had a solid start Friday with freshman Ana Candanoza and Beckstead’s second- and third-place finish in the 3,000-meter run. Beckstead followed up Saturday with a strong finish in the 1,500 to place fourth with a personal-best time of 4:56.27. It was the first time she ran under 5 minutes in the event.

Elsewhere, Morton, a junior, as mentioned, placed fifth in the 100 with a PR-time of 12.95. Philomath picked up a point in the pole vault with junior Madison Schaffer’s eighth place. Schaffer and ninth-place finisher, freshman Aspen Russell, both cleared 7-6. Junior Madison Juhl was 12th in the discus with a throw of 94-3. Morton finished 12th in the long jump at 14-5.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.