Triumph on the track
Siuslaw boys bring home 3A State Championship
May 31, 2023 — At the start of the season, the Siuslaw Track and Field Coach Chris Johnson felt optimistic about the 2023 season, his team's debut after moving to the 3A classification. The competitiveness of the other top teams in the classification, however, surprised him.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Johnson. “I had confidence. We were already pretty darn good at the 4A level and I thought we would have no problem being competitive in 3A but it's been really hard. These 3A teams have been stellar. We have all these private schools we’re competing with now. It’s fun.”
It is safe to assume the most fun Johnson and his Viking boys team had all season was on May 18-19 at historic Hayward Field when Siuslaw brought home the 2023 OSAA 3A Boys State Track & Field Championship to cap an extremely successful first season in their new classification.
Siuslaw sent 17 athletes to the 2023 3A meet, 13 of those were from the boys side. They all played some part in contributing to the team title.
“It’s fun to do it with a whole bunch of different kids,“ said Johnson. “Some schools might have one or two kids that win four or five state championships, kind of like Marshfield has done, but for us it's by committee and that’s fun. We do have our standouts though.”
There certainly were standouts. Three individual athletes brought home state titles, and, as a grand finale, the 4x400 team of sophomore Ray Brito Xilot and seniors Jacob Blankenship, Hunter Petterson and Samuel Ulrich achieved a gold medal of their own.
Before his fantastic finish with the relay team Ulrich helped his team in other ways, as has become the standard during his four-year Siuslaw career.
“The more important the meet the more Sam comes through,” Johnson said of his senior star.
Ulrich battled hard in the 1500 and finished second with the best time of his career, 1:55.20.
“He got second place [in the 1500] which was huge,” said Johnson. “I think he was frustrated though because he thought he had a chance to win this thing.”
Maybe knowing he could use some of that frustration to motivate him, Coach Johnson gave it to Ulrich straight.
“I said ‘I hate to say this but if we’re going to win the state title you're going to have to go win the 800,” recalled Johnson.
Win the 800 he did (1:55.2), in dramatic fashion, by just .64 seconds over Morgan Amano of Valley Catholic. It was a close race.
“When Amano passed him Sam kept fighting and fighting and fighting,” recalled Johnson. “He was just inching up, inching up, then they got tangled up a little bit and then Sam pulled out the victory just like… well, just like he always does.”
The win by Ulrich was the kind of performance Johnson has come to expect.
“He’s been that guy all year long,” raved Johnson. “He’s a champion with the uncanny ability to just go and go and go. He’s a pretty special kid.”
Another state championship for Siuslaw came from outside the enclosed track of Hayward Field, where the throwing events happen, all three of which Siuslaw was represented by John Rose.
“It’s hard to throw out there,” explained Johnson. “You’re kind of off to the side, down in this hole and it seems like the sectors are super narrow. It’s kind of a pressure cooker.”
Rose, an experienced senior who was 6th in the discus and 13th in the shot put in 2022 qualified for all three throwing events for 2023.
“John has always been a kind of ‘put your head down and grind’ kind of athlete,” said Johnson
On the first day Rose overcame a problem faced by many western Oregonians this time of year— allergies. He overcame some breathing issues and finished 6th in shot put (43’1).
On day two, after making the finals of the javelin in his state debut in the event, Rose finished 8th with a 149’9.25.
“We were really leaning on John to go out and win the discus,” said Johnson. “Coach [Max] Perry was confident. ‘I am not one bit worried about John. He’s going to go out there and compete well,’ he told me.”
Compete well, he did —. Rose’s long discus toss for the day was 141' 8.75". Not the longest toss of this storied career as a thrower but good enough to give him his first State Championship and some much needed points for his Viking team.
“John delivered for us, for sure,” said Johnson. “He’s had an incredible career for Siuslaw.”
The highest flying of the individual senior championship trilateral crew is Kyle Hughes.
Hughes is the rare combination distance runner/pole vaulter, a challenge at a standard meet let alone the state championship.
“A lot of times he’s had to do harder workouts or long runs and then have to grab his pole vault pole and get on the runway,” explained Johnson. “That’s not easy.”
With his experience at meets throughout the season Johnson figured Hughes would be ready, even the conditions at Hayward.
“Because everything was happening at the same time at State, Kyle couldn’t leave to warm-up,” explained Johnson.
Hughes still managed to finish in 7th in both the 1500 and 3000 to score points for his team and when it came time to vault he was most definitely ready.
Hughes’ final vault was 15’, the highest of his career, second highest in Siuslaw history and enough to win the 3A State Championship.
“He jumped great,” said Johnson. “He's been getting bigger and bigger polls all the time and generally, the bigger the pool you can get, the higher you're gonna jump. We knew that the Banks boy [Caden Harris] was capable of jumping so the competition got nip and tuck but Kyle pulled it out.”
Though the state meet is the last meet of the OSAA season, Johnson says Hughes will continue to vault this year with his eye on the Siuslaw school record of 15' 6 1/2" set by Colin Cram in 2004.
“He’s definitely gonna jump at Nike Nationals again and hopefully have a chance to break the school record and then in a perfect world maybe he can jump 16 feet,” said Johnson.
The last of the Siuslaw State Champions is the 4x400 relay team, whose final race just happened to be the very last of the entire event.
“Before the race I felt confident we were all set but wanted to remind them of some of the specific rules for this track,” recalled Johnson. “They all looked at me like ‘we know what we’re doing. We’re ready to go.”
The 4x400 relay team was Ray Brito Xilot and seniors Jacob Blankenship, Hunter Petterson and Samuel Ulrich.
“Ray set the tone for us to start and made a perfect hand-off to Sam,” said Johnson as he described the race. “Sam, being an 800 runner was perfect for that second leg. He got us a big lead. Jake got passed but roared back. His and Hunter’s handoff was a little funky but they got it done.”
Petterson had the baton with the final 400m to go.
“I was yelling at Hunter to ‘sit, sit, sit!’,” described Johnson. “He got a little behind but got up on him in the corner and I know Hunter is a no doubt guy. He says ‘give me the stick and I will take us home’ and he did just that.”
At some point in the race Johnson realized that his team had won the team title and the results of this final race didn’t matter.
“At that moment you aren’t thinking of anything but winning the race and putting an explanation point on it,” said Johnson. “They did just that. It was magical.”
Siuslaw would finish with 90 points. Second place Santiam Christian was next with 73.5 followed by Catlin Cable with 64.
Many other Vikings would contribute to Siuslaw’s first place finish.
Besides his gold as a member of the 4x400 team Petterson was 4th in the 400 with a time of 23.02.
Senior Noel Hernandez was third in the 110m hurdles with a PR of 15.43.
Junior Dylan Jensen was 4th in the 800 (2:01.59).
Freshman Will Johnson was 3rd in the triple jump 41’8 and 6th in the pole vault (12’6), both PRs.
Sophomore Justin Allen was 7th in pole vault with a 12’ jump.
On the girls side, highlights include sophomore Maya Wells’ 4th in the 1500 (4:59.09) and 7th in the 800 (2:31.42).
Freshman Alison Hughes finished 4th in the 3000 in her state championship debut with a time of 11:07.99. She was also 6th in the 1500 (5:05.71).
Fellow freshman Danin Lacouture also made her first appearance at state and finished 4th in the shot put with a 31' 8.75" toss.
The girls would finish tied for 12th place with 20 points. Coquille was the 3A girls champ.
For full results of the OSAA 3A Track & Field State Championships go to www.athletic.net/TrackAndField/meet/487456/results.