Best in the Westling

After anchoring her team to a win in the 4x100 relay, Melissa Poolman cracks a rare smile as she checks her time with timer Joe Supsinskas. - Matt Johnson
After anchoring her team to a win in the 4x100 relay, Melissa Poolman cracks a rare smile as she checks her time with timer Joe Supsinskas.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

All the ribbons around the necks of South Whidbey track athletes Saturday made Waterman Field look a little like Christmas.

Clearly more interested in receiving than giving, the Falcon boys and girls piled up points and placed in almost every event available to finish with their one of their best combined showings at the Westling Invitational meet.

Drama in the relays and surprises in niche events like the discus, shot put and 300 hurdles defined the day for the Falcons, who won the boys' meet in a 15-team field, and took second as a team in the girls' meet. Together the two teams amassed more points than at last year's invitational, even though they were missing half a dozen graduates who made the 2001 edition of the meet seemingly peerless.

Not so in 2002. Paced by junior Brandon Bilyeu on the boys side and Katy McGillen and Karen Schwager for the girls, the teams exceeded expectations. Bilyeu was the most irrepressible of the Falcon athletes, turning every event he touched into gold. He won both the 800 and 1,600-meter runs by outmuscling Jackson's Corey Nuro twice, then helped set up senior Joe Candelario for his winning anchor leg in a record-setting 4x400 relay. Without two of the four members of last year's state record-holding team, the combination of Andy Wills, Nick Plastino, Bilyeu and Candelario knocked more than a second off the record mark set in the event at last year's Westling Invite to win handily in 3:26.4.

In other running events, the boys were solid. Wills and Candelario were a domineering duo in the 400 where they placed first and second, and in their fourth-fifth place finishes in the 200. At 100 meters, Plastino was the South Whidbey speed man, taking second behind Clover Park's Shelton Sampson with a speedy 11.46-second dash.

All that short-run speed came together midway through the meet in a fast, but somewhat gaffe-prone 4x100 relay team. Using a new set of starting blocks, leadoff runner Plastino slipped at the gun, forcing the Falcons to play catchup. An aggressive anchor leg by Wills almost pulled the race out, but a team from Steilacoom went away with the win. Falcon sprint coach Dean Hatt said the team has another two seconds of speed in it, but will have to wait for the right day to show it off.

Pleasant surprises for the team came in the shot put and discus, in which senior walk-on Brandon Hern heaved to for respective third and fourth-place finishes. In the javelin, Daniel Eining gave his team eighth-place points. The Falcons did not score in any of those events last year.

At the jumping pits, senior Tim Gathings added a foot to his top jump at last year's invite to take fourth place, while in the high jump sophomore Kyle McGillen was South Whidbey's best with a 5-8, fifth-place leap.

The South Whidbey girls team took much the same route to their team placing as the boys -- through diversification. While their fourth-place 4x400 finish didn't carry the same excitement factor as the boys' squad, the girls had their ultimate success in other events. Sophomore Katy McGillen was the team's top point getter. She opened her meet with a second-place finish in the 100 hurdles, soared to a winning 5-2 mark in the high jump, a third place leap in the long jump, and took sixth place in the javelin -- throwing 10 feet farther and two finish places higher than South Whidbey's top finisher in that event last year.

Also a major scoring factor was senior Karen Schwager. For the third meet in a row, she lowered her personal best marks in both the 1,600 and 800-meter runs, winning the longer event and taking second in the shorter. The 1,600 win was typical of her style: She led start to finish and was never seriously challenged.

Also playing a starring role Saturday afternoon was the sprint relay team of Claudia Gil-Osorio, Nicole Mock, Lindsey Binford and Melissa Poolman. Together, they won the 4x100 relay and placed second in the 4x200, establishing themselves for the first time this season as state contenders in both events. Separately, these sprinters were almost as dominating. Gil-Osorio placed third in the 100-meter dash, Binford fifth in the 200 and Poolman third in the 400 -- an elusive event for the lady Falcons for the past few years.

Other pleasant surprises for the team came when freshman Kimery Hern threw her way to a second-place finish in the discus, and freshman Becky Gabelein's pair of thirds in the 100 and 300 hurdles.

The Falcons have three meets left on their schedule before they begin post-season competition at the North Cascades Conference meet on May 7.

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