Freshman Natalie Dunn takes the baton from junior Ingrid Hellesto during the 4-by-400-meter relay. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Just three meets into their high school track and field careers, a talented group of Philomath High freshmen have shown that they will not be intimidated by the pressure of competition or the accomplishments of their older counterparts.

Janice Hellesto, Natalie Dunn, Aneeka Steen, Melea Lattin and several others from the high school’s youngest class have proven that they can hold their own in the heat of the moment. Combined with the rest of the team, veteran coach Joe Fulton has an interesting roster on his hands with a level of talent that has the potential to do some damage in Class 4A this season. 

“It’s a young team and I don’t know if they’re ready to be state champions just yet but certainly in a couple of years,” Fulton said.

Philomath is 3 for 3 with first-place finishes in Tillamook, Sweet Home and Philomath — the most-recent performance coming Thursday afternoon at Clemens Field.

One of those freshmen, Janice Hellesto, has been stellar so far with victories in all of her races leading up to this week either individually or as part of relays. She appears to operate at a high level of competitiveness with expectations that she will be first to cross the finish line.

Take the 200-meter dash on Thursday. Hellesto was frustrated with a second-place finish in the event, even though the sprinter that beat her is among the best athletes in 4A — Cascade’s Emma Gates, who will be competing next year at this time for the University of Arizona.

Janice Hellesto tries to catch her breath after finishing the 4-by-400 relay while Aneeka Steen, center, and Natalie Dunn react to the win. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“The girl that beat me is first in the state right now and I’m second so it was not fun losing,” said Hellesto, who had a personal-best time of 26.54 seconds. “But I think it was good to keep in mind that it’s not always going to be easy.”

There were few frustrations overall for the Warriors with the team piling up 172.5 points to easily beat out runner-up Cascade with 113. Newport was a distant third in the eight-school invitational.

Among the team’s victories was the 4-by-400 relay, the final event of the afternoon. Steen, junior Ingrid Hellesto, Dunn and Janice Hellesto made up Philomath’s team.

“They were pushed today … for them to run a 4:10, 4:11 in the 4-by-400 in this cold and a little bit of wind, I would guess that by late May they’ll be ready to run close to 4 minutes,” Fulton said. “That’s exciting for a team that young.”

Philomath’s official time came in at 4:11.29, which ranks No. 1 in the state by a considerable margin of 6.03 seconds.

“The 400 is a little more scary than the 100 relay because you really don’t know where they are behind you,” Hellesto said. “But I love the motivation coming from your teammates and everything.”

She later laughed, “I’d say it’s super fun to watch … I wouldn’t say it’s the most fun to run,”

Said Dunn, “It was difficult but it was good,” Dunn said. “It was amazing hearing people cheer.”

Junior Ingrid Hellesto won the 300 hurdles in 50.1 seconds. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Ingrid Hellesto competed with the relay right after winning the 300-meter hurdles. It was only the second time she had run the event.

“She’s a distance runner but we needed a 300 hurdler and she did it in 50.1, which is one of the best times in the state,” Fulton said. “She’s got a lot of work to do and made some mistakes out there but she still ran against two really good runners and beat them at the finish line.”

Philomath’s short relay also had a first-place showing with a time of 52.10 seconds, which ended up as a 2.35-second margin of victory over runner-up Sisters.

“This was the closest one we’ve had,” Janice Hellesto said. “In the other ones, they (runners-up) were at the 75- to 50-meter mark when we were at the finish but it was good to have something that close to us to really keep us on our toes.”

Besides Hellesto, others running on the relay were sophomore Ellie Morton, Dunn and senior Haviland Eves. A time of 51.89 at the Sweet Home meet last week puts the team in second for best in 4A.

By the way, Philomath’s junior varsity 4-by-100 had a time that would’ve finished second in the varsity race with a time of 54.38. Running legs on that relay were freshman Ariana Boutilier, Ingrid Hellesto, freshman Petra Hernandez and sophomore Elia Gibert Pla.

PHS freshman Melea Lattin was second in the 800. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

In other individual running events, Dunn won the 400-meter dash with a time of 1:01.26, her top time this season and second-best in 4A.

“It’s a hard event — people don’t think it is because it’s shorter but that doesn’t mean it’s easier,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she tends to start out a little slow before picking up speed and then maintaining that momentum to the finish.

“It was amazing because the rain and hail just stopped right before it,” Dunn said. “It was probably some of the best weather we had (today) other than the wind.”

Steen finished third in 1:03.92.

Lattin had a second-place finish in the 800 with a time of 2:28.64. Freshman Hannah McDaniel was third in the 3,000 with a 12:15.91.

PHS sophomore Elia Gibert Pla clears the bar on her way to a tie for first place in the high jump. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Philomath also did well in the field events with senior Sage Kramer adding another first-place finish to her season in the javelin. Kramer had a throw of 107 feet to beat the runner-up by 8.5 feet. Kramer also had a third-place finish in the discus at 98-3.

Gibert Pla tied for first place in the high jump by clearing 4-8. The event proved to be very competitive with six girls clearing 4-6 to 4-8. Gates, the top high jumper in the state, did not participate.

In a close competition in the long jump, Janice Hellesto finished second at 15.025 inches, just a quarter of an inch shorter than the winner. Steen was also close in the triple jump with a distance of 30-6, which was 1 inch shorter than the winning 30-7.

Other top-three finishes in the field events included Ingrid Hellesto in the triple jump (30-4.25) and senior Emery Boutilier in the pole vault (8-0).

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.