Matt Simms photo — South Whidbey junior Elizabeth Donnelly won the 800-meter Cascade Conference title for the third consecutive time at the league championships on May 5 at Cedarcrest High School.

Falcons claim team conference titles at league championships

The meet began with a stroke of lightning.

It ended with a bang.

South Whidbey track and field’s boys and girls teams both captured team titles at the Cascade Conference Championships on Friday at Cedarcrest High School. The meet was planned to start on May 4, but excessive lightning pushed it back by one day. The Falcons were forced to scratch 13 entries due to time conflicts, but the athletes lost little of their spark during the competition.

Six Falcons won individual conference championships in seven events: sophomore Kristopher Dixon (110-meter hurdles), junior Sophia Nielsen (100-meter hurdles and triple jump), senior Bailey Forsyth (100-meter dash), sophomore Caden Spear (100 meters), freshman Lila McCleary (300-meter hurdles) and junior Elizabeth Donnelly (800 meters). The girls 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relay teams also won conference titles. The 4×100 team finished with the fastest time in class 1A this season: 50.79 seconds.

The girls beat Cedarcrest, the runner-up, by 38 points, while the boys beat the Red Wolves by just 7.5 points.

“The boys’ score was a total surprise,” head coach Mark Eager said. “I knew the kids competed well, but not to that degree. The score was announced while the girls were on the podium, and everyone was shocked. This is a memory we won’t forget.”

Donnelly earned her third consecutive crown when she beat Tia Asher of Archbishop Murphy by one-tenth of a second. Donnelly, who won conference titles in 2014 and 2015, ran the event in 2:22.30. That’s good enough for fifth-best in the state.

“I was super excited because obviously it’s a lot of pressure going into it,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly did not qualify for the finals at the 2015 state track and field championships in Cheney after finishing second as a freshman. She was happy to kick the postseason off on a good note.

“Obviously I want to get back there and make the final again,” Donnelly said. “Then I can go all out and see how it goes.”

Forsyth, who runs the final leg on the girls 4×100 relay team with freshman Karyna Hezel, sophomore Alexandra Kurtz and junior Mikayla Hezel, said it’s a cool accomplishment to be first in state. The team isn’t letting the excitement get to their heads though, and are taking things week by week.

“That’s all you can do because it doesn’t matter that we’re first in state now,” Forsyth said. “If something goes wrong next week or the week after that, it won’t matter. We just got to take it week by week.”

The girls 4×100 team was the favorite to win last year’s state championship. But, a botched handoff during the prelims put an end to that. Mikayla Hezel said the experience of coming up short at the state level has fueled the relay team’s motivation this season. She said they always had the thought in the back of their minds that something bad could happen, but they had never dropped the baton in an event or at practice. When it actually happened, it was a wake-up call.

“That made us even hungrier for this year’s races to come back even stronger,” Mikayla Hezel said. “It’s a huge learning experience.”

McCleary’s title as a freshman did not come easily. She tripped on the final hurdle of the race and collapsed to the ground. McCleary’s nearest competitor also tripped on the same hurdle and fell. McCleary quickly recovered and finished in 52.42 seconds and about a second faster than the second and third place finishers. McCleary said it was the first time she had ever tripped on a hurdle, practice included.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” McCleary said. “I was hoping to at least place. Now, I have a lot higher expectations. I want to be able to get to state. I’ll certainly try, but I think I’ll make it to districts and bi-districts.”

Other top three finishers on the girls team included senior Sophia Morgan (second in 1,600 meters, third in 3,200 meters), Forsyth (second, 200 meters), junior Emma Barker (third, pole vault), Nielsen (second, long jump), senior Anna Leski (third, triple jump) and the girls 4×200 relay (second).

Finishing in the top three for the boys were Spear (third, 200), junior Romey Rohde (second, pole vault), Issiah Gonzales (second, high jump), sophomore Owen Boram (second, javelin), senior Chase Barthlett (third, discus), Dixon (third, 300 hurdles), the 4×100 relay (second) and the 4×400 relay (second).

Next up for the Falcons is the 1A District 1 Championships on May 11-13 at Lynden Christian High School.