Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey junior Sophia Nielsen practices her hurdling form at a recent track and field practice.

New motto places focus on performing well at state

For those who have competed for South Whidbey’s track and field team in the past, the goal has always been to have fun and qualify as many athletes as possible for the state championships.

The Falcons’ goal is nearly identical this season, but for one difference. The team doesn’t just plan to make it to state this year, it plans to perform there as well, according to Falcon head coach Mark Eager. The team has even gone as far as creating a new team motto that exemplifies this goal.

“On the back of our t-shirts it says, ‘Own It,’ ” Eager said. “Instead of showing up like we’re visiting or we don’t really belong here, where you’re looking around like you’re unfamiliar with the place and you just checked into a hotel or something, we should walk in like we’ve been here, we’ve done this before and let’s just own this.”

The Falcons are coming off a 2016 season which included four state medals, 18 state qualifiers and a girls bi-district team championship.

“It’s the most prestigious meet that we have beneath state, so it was a big deal for us to win it for the girls last year,” Eager said. “I don’t want to talk about titles, I want to talk about improving. If we get everybody to improve, then all of that stuff takes care of itself. I just want to make sure that the kids are healthy, having fun and improving.”

Perhaps no one else on the Falcons’ team is more accustomed to performing at state than senior Bailey Forsyth. Forsyth is South Whidbey’s most decorated athlete after earning three of the Falcons’ four state medals in 2016. She finished fifth and seventh in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints, respectively, while also helping the girls place fourth in the 4×400-meter relay. While she’s already lived and breathed the team’s new motto, Forsyth said she’s trying to help others become accustomed to it as well.

“We’re definitely working to that, because getting to state is awesome. But once you’re there, you want to place,” Forsyth said.

Junior Sophia Nielsen will also gun for a state medal after qualifying in the long jump, 100-meter hurdles and 4×100-meter relay in 2016. The 4×100 relay team, consisting of Nielsen, Forsyth, senior Mikayla Hezel and sophomore Alexandra Kurtz, entered the state meet with the fastest time in class 1A (49.82) but squandered a chance for a title when a botched baton exchange led to their disqualification during preliminaries. Nielsen and Forsyth said the mishap has lit a fire underneath the relay team and they promised themselves that they would return in a similar position to claim the title.

Nielsen will be the Falcons’ utility athlete and will compete in a variety of events including the 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump, high jump and the 4×100. Nielsen said she is the opposite of undaunted by her new workhorse responsibilities.

“I’m excited for sure,” Nielsen said. “I just want to get out there and try new things.”

Eager said the Falcons will utilize Nielsen’s versatility as best they can.

“She’s just got lots of explosiveness,” Eager said. “She reminds me in her versatility of Katy McGillen. Some kids just run fast, but she runs fast and does tricks. She’s a circus act.”

Eager is also hopeful that senior long distance runners Collin Burns and Cory Ackerman can punch their tickets to state this season, as well as senior thrower Chase Barthlett. A plethora of other South Whidbey athletes will also be in the mix for state qualifications.

“I really want to get to state this year because last year I missed it by two inches,” Barthlett said. “I just need to get to state. This is my last year, so I’m definitely going to try and go all out.”

The Falcons have already competed in two meets this season and host Cedarcrest at 4 p.m. on March 30.