It was two days full of sunburns, close calls and, for the Cottage Grove track and field team, four athletes making their way to the state meet.
“That’s amazing. I’m just so proud of them. It made my year,” said first-year head coach Gyna Walton.
While the Cottage Grove team was unable to continue its recent run of team success – the boys placed fourth as a team and girls fifth after winning the last three coed titles – there was a group of individuals that stood out at the Sky-Em District track and field meet last week.
Competing at Marist High School on Friday and Saturday, Cottage Grove junior Mitchell Krokus (triple jump, long jump), junior Jimmy Talley (3000 and 1500), sophomore Matty Ladd (high jump) and freshman Gracie Arnold (high jump and javelin) all earned their spots at this week’s state meet which begins on Friday at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
All four state-bound athletes entered the meet ranked in the top two of their respective events (except Talley in the 1500 who did not have an official time recorded this season). But at districts, it was anything but easy as the group punched their tickets to the state meet.
“(Jimmy) was focused, he knew what his job was today and he came out and he executed it to what he needed. And he did amazing... Mitchell is amazing in jumps and his attitude. He’s just one of the best kids out on this team, I believe,” said Walton, going through each of the team’s state-qualifiers. “Gracie’s amazing. She can throw anything, jump anything. And as a freshman? That’s wild... And Matty, again, she’s so athletic. She could bowl a perfect game or whatever. What do you say about that group of kids? And it’s so exciting that they’re going to be back next year.”
Competing in both distance events, Talley took part in two completely different races. Where the 3000 was a patient affair in which no one wanted to lead, the 1500 was the polar opposite as it was a pack of three Marist runners looking to make sure no one else led. But, to Talley, it didn’t matter if it was a methodical jaunt or a sprint from the start as he claimed first place in the 3000 and squeezed his way into second in the 1500.
Entering the 3000, Talley was ready to wait out the competition. After claiming the league title last season as a sophomore, he finished second at the state meet. This year, Talley, after a slow start to the season, holds the second fastest time in the state.
“Earlier in the season, I wasn’t running too fast for 3K so I was a little scared,” said Talley who came alive at the end of the season Wally Ciochetti Invitational where he ran a 9:08 and took second to the 4A’s top 3000 runner Leo Johns of Newport. “I had a little bit of a mental block before that because I was expecting to have another PR this year and I was just running not really close to it. Like 25 seconds away. But anyway, after that race, I felt pretty good about getting down under nine again at state.”
With a regained confidence, and a mile left in Friday’s 3000, Talley liked his chances as he was in second place in a group of 10 runners. As the laps ticked by under the warm sun, the pack got smaller and smaller. And then it was time to strike.
“Well, I was expecting (Marist’s Evan Villano, who led for the first 2750 meters of the race) to have a kick with 600 meters to go,” said Talley. “He sped up a little bit but it wasn’t a considerable amount and then I just decided to wait until the last moment to kick because I was really hot. I couldn’t kick at a 400 or 600. It was so hot.”
Instead, he finally kicked to a higher gear with 250 meters to go and cruised by Villano on the way to securing a four-second win with a time of 9:31.
“It was pretty hot, not going to lie. It was really hot,” said Talley who noted he prefers running in about 65-degree weather. “I was hoping he wasn’t going to stick with me.”
While the 3000 went out slow, the 1500 was anything but. A pack of three Marist runners took control early, pushed the pace and spread out the rest of the pack. Talley made his choice to just try and hang on with the top runners.
With a lap to go it was still the three Spartans in front with Talley pursuing. As he tried to find the energy for his signature kick, he found himself about 10 meters back of second place with 150 meters left in the race.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get second. It definitely was a little intimidating, all three of them. And then the last lap everyone started separating a little bit and it was my moment,” he said. “And that last 150, I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch him but he started slowing down a little and I made my move.”
With 50 meters left Talley was tied for second. He continued to dig deep and gutted his way into second to seal a spot at state with a time of 4:10.
“It feels really good. And that was a PR for me by four seconds so that was a good feeling, too. So I’m just excited for state. I mean, that was, that’s the first guy in state right there,” Talley said of Marist’s Gabe Garboden who won the race and had the top time coming into the day. After the race Talley now has the sixth fastest 1500 in 4A.
Last year Talley also qualified for state in both the 1500 and 3000 but dropped his time in the 1500 so teammate Konrad Raum, who had finished third, could run at state. While he was willing to do that again this season, instead he will be the lone Lion representing at state on the track.
“It’s going to be really cool,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to say you’re going for more than one event.”
Matty Ladd and Gracie Arnold
It’s hard to talk about Matty Ladd without talking about Gracie Arnold. Or vice versa.
It’s not just that the pair of towering underclassmen are dominant, they are dominant at a lot of the same things. Whether it is in volleyball, basketball or track and field, all year Ladd and Arnold have helped their teams find success at a high level. While also constantly competing with each other.
“The relationship between us is we both want each other to do very good but we’re also very competitive people,” said Arnold. “Always competing in every sport, every event.”
“But no matter what happens in the end, we’re always super proud of each other,” added Ladd.
Heading into the district high jump final, both had personal bests this season of 5’2. No one else in the Sky-Em had cleared over 4’10. But Saturday’s competition got off to a slow start for Arnold as she missed a height early on.
“I got in my head a lot. I was already nervous to begin with and missing that first height that has just been an easy height to get was pretty like – I got down on myself a bit,” said Arnold. “But I was glad to have Matty and (teammate) Avery (Hutchins) over there to get me back on my feet. I don’t know, I was just being dumb. Missing jumps I shouldn’t have missed.”
The competition rolled on and the bar continued to rise. At 4’8 Arnold, along with two other jumpers, were eliminated. Ladd was the only one left and she went on to clear 5’0 and take the Sky-Em title for the second year in a row.
As it appeared the competition was over, second place had still not been determined. The three jumpers that had gone out at 4’8 – Arnold, Lexie Geiger from Elmira and Carmen Samuels from Marshfield – were then put in a jump-off to determine who would go to state.
“When I missed the last three I was like, ‘OK, it’s fine -- my best friend is going to state.’ That’s what I thought. And Matty coming over and saying that we have a tie, it’s like, okay, this is a second chance, I’ve got this. There’s no way I’m not going to get this,” said Arnold.
The bar was set to 4’10 and each jumper was given one chance to clear it to continue in the competition. Geiger went first and knocked down the bar. Then it was the same from Samuels. Arnold was up and was one clearance away from going to state.
“Not everybody gets a second chance to do this so I’m going to take advantage of the position I was put into,” said Arnold. “I was like, now I’m going to stop being stupid and just do what I normally do in practice.”
She did exactly that as she cleared the height with ease and celebrated her spot at state by running over to Ladd and Hutchins as they savored the moment.
“So exciting. I’m so excited, it’s going to be so much fun. Especially since last year it was just me,” said Ladd. “Like, it was fun but I was alone the whole time. Now I have somebody to experience it with.”
While the duo is going in high jump, it certainly wasn’t the only event at districts for Ladd and Arnold.
On Friday, Arnold qualified for state by finishing second in javelin, an event that she has continued to improve on throughout the season.
“I threw jav in middle school but it was like the plastic jav so I didn’t know what to do. Like, Matty and Avery were saying, ‘Oh, it’s so hard to throw this jav, it’s a metal one, it’s different, it doesn’t weigh anything,’” said Arnold. “I was like, I’ll try it, see what it feels like for myself. I threw it and was like, kay, that’s not that bad.”
At the first meet of the year Arnold threw 89’3 and has continued to improve since. Twice she threw 99’ before finally breaking the 100-foot barrier with a toss of 107’6 at the Wally Ciochetti Invitational. On Friday she led the meet going into finals and took second with a throw of 104’11. Marshfield’s Mira Matthews won the event with a throw of 111’7 -- it was her first time throwing over 100 feet.
“I started to put in more work for it. I didn’t just think of it as another event. It was OK, I’ve got to actually start practicing this. It got more fun as the competition got better,” said Arnold who gave credit to senior teammate Riley Hutchins, who finished fourth, for helping her perfect her form.
Elsewhere at the meet Ladd finished fifth in the 100 and eighth in triple jump.
Together Ladd and Arnold scored 31 of the Cottage Grove girls’ 66.33 points.
At last year’s district meet, Mitchell Krokus stunned everyone, including himself, when he took first in league. After stumbling upon the event midway through the season, he quickly found success and was able to jump his way to state.
This season, all eyes were on Krokus heading into the meet as he had the top mark in the league and one of the top jumps in the state. It was going to be hard to surprise anyone.
And then came Krokus’ second jump of the day.
As Krokus bounded down the runway to a Hayward Field-esque slow clap, he found speed, took off and recorded a near two-foot personal best with jump of 44’8.
“I was wanting to get into 43’, I told my dad that before this meet I wanted to get 43’ and then I put it together and got the 44’,” said Krokus. “Not expecting that at all, I don’t think anyone was. I was just in awe when I jumped that, I didn’t have words.”
Neither did the rest of the field as they looked on in amazement and resignation to the fact that no one was going to get close to that mark. Krokus won the event by over four feet and, heading into state, has the best mark in the state by 14 inches.
The jump not only helped Krokus forget about nagging ailments that have popped up throughout the season, it also served as a form of redemption.
“Coming into today it was more of a redemption day to me because the day before at long jump, I was seeded second, supposed to go to state for that, didn’t happen,” said Krokus of his third-place finish. “Bummed out, but you know, I had a second chance. I had to be thankful for that, at least.”
Despite the third place finish, Krokus, unbeknownst to him and the Cottage Grove team at the time, had hit the automatic qualifying mark which will send him to this year’s state meet. Krokus was named the Sky-Em male jumper of the year.
A year after being new to triple jump and an 11th place finish at state, Krokus is ready to be back with the top competitors.
“Last year at state it was a whole different realm for me. It was at Hayward. Everything is new, different board, ton of different stuff,” he said. “But expectations for me at state this year, I just want to have fun with it. You know, I’m in high school, I don’t want to be stressing over it too much, well I should be because it’s a big deal but I just want to have fun with it.”
While four Cottage Grove athletes are headed to state, the Lions picked up points elsewhere on the track as well.
For the boys, the team saw third-place finishes from junior Fernando Soto-Cruz in the 400, freshman Isaac Stere in high jump and the 4x400 team of Talley, Soto-Cruz, Paesen Timm and Rodas Rodas Martin.
On the track Timm finished fourth in the 3000 while sophomore Drew Chapman was fifth. Chapman took seventh in the 1500 and senior Konrad Raum was eighth in the 800. In the field events, senior Drake English claimed fifth in high jump while Evan Snauer was eighth. Snauer placed fifth in javelin while sophomore Jake Hopkins was fifth in shot put. Junior Luke Johns finished seventh in pole vault.
For the Cottage Grove girls, the team had third place finishes from Riley Hutchins in javelin, sophomore Adelle Kent in pole vault and sophomore Payton Cameron in triple jump. Sophomore Annah Nyburg recorded a fourth place finish in the 800 and was fifth in the 1500. Also taking fifth was the team’s 4x400 team of Kasja Merz, Emma Gilbert Spires, Piper Youngmayr and Eternity Reimche, sophomore Raina Herzog in shot put and junior Annie Gibson Becker in discus.