Canby girls' relay team headline state track local performances
By Elias Esquivel,2023-05-28
The Canby girls’ 4x400 relay team was not favored to do that well on the final day of the OSAA 5A track and field state championships at Hayward Field in Eugene on Saturday, May 27.
After all, the relay had only one athlete who qualified for a final at the state meet individually. Further, the team entered with the third slowest entry of the field, and was slated to run in the first heat, which contained the slower teams.
None of that mattered. Not when MacKenzie Bigej is on the team.
Bigej anchored the relay, running a 58.4 bell lap to drop the rest of the field and finish at 4 minutes, 4.53 seconds. They didn’t know it then, but the time won Canby the relay, as no teams in the second heat — supposedly the faster one — could topple their time, with Summit finishing less than a second behind.
Bigej couldn’t do it alone, however. Isabella Capra, Ava Schreffler and Samantha Astorga joined the sophomore standout on the relay.
“We kind of knew that we were seeded on a spot where we weren’t going to have as much competition,” Schreffler said. “We knew we had to run against ourselves.”
Capra, a freshman, ran the first leg for Canby. The moment was not lost on the young athlete, and she was nervous on the blocks, afraid of committing a false start.
“I look at the track every time before I start, and I just take a breath,” Capra said. “As soon as the gun goes, I’m like, ‘I just have to catch the girl in front of me.’ That’s all I’m thinking about.”
After Capra and Schreffler positioned Canby with a slight lead through 800 meters, Astorga knew she could not drop the pace.
“I saw the other girls start to catch me in the first 20 meters, so I knew I had to go harder,” Astorga said. “Just gave every ounce I had to get Bigej the lead.”
Bigej delivered, and her final split was the difference – through 1,200 meters Mountain View and Summit had the top two times. The state title was the capper to Bigej’s phenomenal season and weekend, which included third-place finishes in the 1,500- and 3,000 meters with personal bests of 4:32.44 and 9:42.42, respectively.
The two races left Bigej sore, and she said it made her a bit anxious for the relay. As Astorga handed Bigej the baton, she glanced at the clock on the big screen.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re at 3:06 – OK, I have to go sub-60 now,’” Bigej said. “I was fighting because I knew if I could just run a sub-60 we could potentially win.”
Besides winning the race, the time also earned the relay the qualifying standard for the Nike Outdoor Nationals in June at Hayward Field.
On the boys’ side, the Cougars found just as much success. Omar Villanueva, a senior, won the 200 meters in a time of 22.08, and finished sixth in the 100 meters at 11.13.
Villanueva’s state title comes a year after almost quitting track. Villanueva said he had a disappointing junior year, where he only qualified for state in the 200 meters. Discouraged, Villanueva did not even want to make the trip to Eugene and failed to advance past the preliminaries.
This year, he still felt frustrated at times and considered hanging his spikes up. However, as the season progressed and Villanueva relied on his parents and coaches for support, he was able to clear the mental hurdles and replace it with belief.
“If this is how I wrap up the entire season, I couldn’t be happier,” Villanueva said. “As I was running, I let everything go blank. I didn’t try and feel any of the physical pain, any mental anguish.”
Joining Villanueva in the sprints, and sporting a matching buzz-cut, was senior Cohen Hall, who recorded a personal best of 10.86 and finished second in the 100 meters. It was a day filled with personal bests for Hall, as he also ran 22.19 in the 200 meters and finished third.
“When the gun went off (in the 100), I was thinking about it too much,” Hall said. “From there, I was like, ‘I got to relax. I got to focus on my form, focus on my knee drive.”
Villanueva and Hall were on both relay teams as well. In the 4x100 relay, they finished third with teammates Jeromy Strong and Treyson Wakefield with a time of 43.10. Maddox Oliver and Logan Peterson joined them on the 4x400 relay, as the team finished eighth in 3:30.59.
In the 1,500 meters, Oliver ran a personal best and finished 10th in a time of 4:01.65. On the field, Wakefield, a senior, leaped 20-8.5 in the long jump and finished ninth.
4A state track
Molalla was represented by five athletes in finals on the last day of the OSAA 4A track and field state championships, with three boys and two girls. Despite the low representation, they all left Eugene with some hardware.
Jade Naylor finished seventh in the 100 meters at 13.07 after advancing past the preliminaries by only 0.07. Shelby Goetz, a junior, finished seventh in the 800 meters at 2:28.16.
For Goetz, the podium finish came a little more difficult. She ran a personal record in the preliminaries, clocking in at 2:27.11 and advancing to the final as a wildcard. The season’s culmination affirmed Goetz’s efforts, as she dropped her times in the last two weeks by 10s of seconds compared to her previous outings. It also served as some light redemption, as Goetz just missed the podium last year and finished ninth.
“The whole year I’ve just felt like I was really struggling,” Goetz said. “Then I started to realize the season was coming to a close, and I really wanted to make it to state, so I started pushing harder in practices and it made a difference.”
On the boys’ side, sophomore Brandon Roberson threw 154-8 and finished seventh in the javelin. Meanwhile, on the track, cousins Antuan Peterson and Brayden Cunningham capped their impressive senior campaigns.
Peterson finished seventh in the 400 meters at 52.29 and followed it by finishing eighth in the 300-meter hurdles at 42.68 less than two hours later. Cunningham finished sixth in the 110-meter hurdles in a time of 16.08.
Cunningham’s achievement came after a lackluster performance in the long jump and 100 meters, where he finished 11th in the pit and failed to qualify for the final of the 100 meters.
He said the 100-meters result was disappointing, especially because his time was significantly slower than the one that got him on the podium last year in the event when he placed fourth. Knowing he could do better, Cunningham sat in the stands before his hurdle final, easing his mind and refocusing.
It seemed to work, with Cunningham running the fastest time of his life in his final high school race.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Cunningham said. "Obviously this is one of the best track stadiums in the U.S., if not the world, and it was just a huge pleasure to compete here and I’m proud of what I did.”