Philomath High won its fifth state title in girls track and field on Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene. Seen here celebrating with the trophy are Natalie Dunn, from left, Havi Eves, Sage Kramer and Jazz Choi. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

EUGENE — Before track and field season started this spring, Philomath coach Joe Fulton knew he had a group of talented freshman girls on his hands. They had shown a lot of athletic skill in preseason workouts but at the time, he wasn’t completely sure if his youngest athletes could bring that level of competitiveness into an actual meet.

That’s coming from a coach with decades of experience developing athletes.

Said Fulton, “The girls were so much fun to work with because you’re innocent and you’re hungry and they wanted to see what they can do.”


What they did on Friday and Saturday at the Class 4A Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene was to overwhelm the competition to win the program’s fifth state title in Philomath High history — the others coming in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 2010.

Freshmen Janice Hellesto, Natalie Dunn and Aneeka Steen all had heavy contributions to the team’s point total to go along with a memorable meet in the field events by senior Sage Kramer and high finishes in the hurdling events by junior Ingrid Hellesto. Sophomore Ellie Morton and senior Haviland Eves were in the mix as well with participation on the short relay.

It all added up to 87 points with Philomath taking the title by 18 points over runner-up Marist Catholic.

Philomath High celebrates with the state championship trophy on Saturday at Hayward Field. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

“I don’t think it should really matter but it’s definitely intimidating as a freshman,” Janice Hellesto said. “I think it’s so cool that as a team, we get to grow up together and have all four years and do really well all four years hopefully.”

Fulton said his coaching staff worked wonders with the raw, inexperienced talent on the roster.

“Tyler Thomas did such a great job developing those freshman sprinters and Brian Lucas had to teach Sage Kramer three throws and she’s brand new to the sport,” Fulton said. “And Diana (Bushnell) had somebody score in the triple jump — a freshman — and so I mean, it’s incredible.”

PHS senior Sage Kramer won the javelin on Friday and with another win on Saturday in the shot put and fourth in the discus, she scored 25 points. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Kramer’s background of performing at a high level contributed to the overall atmosphere.

“Sage knew what it was all about — being a state champion (with the basketball team),” Fulton said, “so she helped inspire them with ‘let’s go do this, let’s win this thing.’”

Fulton said this year’s team is the youngest in PHS history to win state.

“We’ve won other state titles but they were always with juniors and seniors,” Fulton said, adding that if the pandemic hadn’t led to the season’s cancellation in 2020, Philomath would’ve won that year as well. “To have a team dominated by freshmen to win this convincingly is really impressive.”

Senior Sage Kramer won the state title in the shot put after taking up the event less than a month ago. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Kramer’s performance over the two-day meet was notable with first-place medals in both the javelin and shot put, along with a fourth in the discus. The shot put victory, however, was unique and will go down in PHS sports history as one of the most improbable accomplishments.

That’s because she only tried the shot put for the first time in competition less than a month ago. Kramer got interested in it after watching a teammate and thinking, maybe she could give a try and help the team earn more points.

“I was talking to coach Joe and coach (Brian) Lucas and I said, ‘hey, I want to try shot, is it too late?’ And they’re like, ‘well, if in three days you can throw 30 feet, we’ll enter you into the Wally Ciochetti meet.’”

Philomath had an intrasquad meet and Kramer hit 30 feet to earn that spot in the May 6 meet down at Cottage Grove. She threw 33-5.25 and placed third and then followed up a week later by winning the event at the conference championships with a 33-9.75.

How did she develop in the event so quickly? Kramer credited her coaches and teammate Abigail Brown for helping her with form. She picked up on it fast because of her basketball background.

“One thing about it is the form I do — it’s like a foot exchange — and that’s similar to a basketball move that my trainer has taught me so that part of it was so natural,” Kramer said.

As for the javelin, Kramer just cleared her mind. Leading up to what would be the winning throw of 120 feet, 7 inches, Kramer said she avoided thinking about every little thing that goes into her technique.

“For the really good throw that I had, I just went up and didn’t think about it, went through my form and the foot plant and the arm whip came together and performed,” Kramer said.

Kramer’s performance was nearly 5 feet better than the runner-up and bettered her previous personal-best by more than 4 feet.

PHS freshman Janice Hellesto won the 400, ran anchor on the winning 4-by-400 relay, was part of the runner-up 4-by-100 relay and placed third in the 200. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Janice Hellesto and Natalie Dunn had a 1-2 finish in the 400-meter dash to give the Warriors major points.

“I mostly stay on pace off people over the first 200 and then I hit that last 200 and the fear factor comes in — I don’t want anyone near me,” Hellesto said about how she approaches the 400. “So I can tell that’s when I really start kicking. I wouldn’t say I have a strategy — I think I’m just scared.”

Janice Hellesto, right, hugs teammate Natalie Dunn after they finished 1-2 in the 400-meter dash. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Dunn said she typically starts at a conservative pace before picking up speed.

“Usually I have a hard time coming out of the blocks, so I just slowly try and get faster and faster,” Dunn said. “By the end, I’m going all out with everything like I’m about to die.”

Janice Hellesto also had a third-place finish in the 200 with a PR time of 26.17 seconds.

Ingrid Hellesto’s second-place showing in the 300 hurdles was not unexpected with a personal-best time of 46.93 seconds. But like Kramer in the shot put, Hellesto only tried the 100 hurdles for the first time at that Cottage Grove meet. She placed second at the conference meet and fourth at state with a time of 17.19 seconds (after going 16.99 in prelims).

“She was a 1,500 and 800 runner and a good one but we tried her out in the 300 hurdles and she looked pretty good in that,” Fulton said. “About three weeks ago, I said, ‘would you be interested in trying the 100 hurdles?’ and she takes fourth at state! I’m like, ‘what’s going on here?’”

PHS junior Ingrid Hellesto placed second in the 300 hurdles. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Steen, Ingrid Hellesto, Dunn and Janice Hellesto won the 4-by-400 relay to end the meet with a time of 4:03.64, just a hundredth of a second shy of a full 4 seconds over runner-up Cascade.

“Even though it’s the last event and we’re tired from all of the other events, I think we do a really good job of having energy for each other, which is something we’ve really focused on this season,” Ingrid Hellesto said.

The 4-by-100 relay of Morton, Dunn, Eves and Janice Hellesto sprinted the distance in 50.70 seconds for a close second behind Marist.

PHS freshman Aneeka Steen placed third in the triple jump. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

In other field events, Steen placed third in the triple jump with a personal-record distance of 33 feet, 10.25 inches.

“This is only my second year of track (counting middle school) and just randomly I was like ‘let’s try quite a few events,’” Steen said when asked how she got into the triple jump. “My coach helped me with technique, Diana (Bushnell) and I learned it.”

Morton earned the team a point by clearing 4-8 in the high jump.

PHS senior Jazz Choi takes a selfie with several teammates while celebrating Saturday’s state title. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

In other events at the state meet, freshman Melea Lattin was ninth in the 1,500 (5:10.47), senior Jazz Choi finished ninth in the triple jump (31-8.5), Morton was 11th in the 100 (13.38) and Steen finished 11th in the long jump (14-6.75). 

On a side note, Philomath’s DNA in athletics could be seen in other areas of the state meet. Former PHS standout Tyler Bushnell coached the Crescent Valley girls to a state title in Class 5A; Ava McKee, daughter of former Warriors state champion Aaron McKee, won the 400 and 800 individually and anchored the winning 4-by-400 relay for the Raiders; and Emma Gates, Cascade senior who won the the 100 and high jump, is the daughter of Kenny Gates, an exceptional Philomath High athlete in his day.

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.