Canceled season is hurdle Falcons can’t clear

Three South Whidbey athletes were denied the opportunity to double down on a rare feat when the high school sports season was canceled last spring.

In May of 2019, then juniors Kole Nelson and Bodie Hezel and sophomore Cody Eager all placed (finished in the top eight) in the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1A state track meet at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.

It is not often that two athletes from the same school place in the same event in the same year at state. Scarcely do three.

And, it could have been four. Another Falcon who had the team’s best hurdle times and placed at state as a junior in 2018 was no longer on the team when it went to the state finals in 2019.

Nelson finished fifth, Hezel sixth and Eager eighth in the 2019 state race. Only one of the top four was an underclassman.

No matter, when sports were wiped out last spring by COVID-19, so was the chance for the Falcon trio to repeat their outstanding and unusual state performance. The opportunity to sweep the top three spots at state was also lost.

South Whidbey head track coach Mark Eager, who is also Cody’s father, called the cancellation of the season “a gut punch after all that hard work.”

When the season was first suspended, it was “surreal,” coach Eager added, “but there was hope that things would simply be delayed.”

“But as the professional teams and colleges canceled their seasons, that’s when I realized I wouldn’t get a chance to coach these kids this year, or ever again,” he said.

“Seeing all that Falcon Blue in the finals at state for the hurdles is something I can’t get back. To be honest, I can’t think about it.

“As the weeks passed, I couldn’t stop thinking about which meets we’d be at; and the weekend of state, I actually drove to Spokane, because that’s what we do that time of year.

“I look forward to Cody’s senior year, but the benefit he received by getting pushed by Kole and Bodie for one more season, well, that’s something we’ll just have to get over.”

Cody Eager said, “It was very heartbreaking to hear that the season was canceled. I tried to keep myself busy to keep my mind off of it. I would like to thank Kole Nelson and Bodie Hezel for helping me become a better athlete.”

Coach Eager said becoming an outstanding hurdler takes more than talent.

“The most technical events in track are the hurdles and the pole vault,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how fast or athletic you are, unless you can learn the technique, be willing to get frustrated along the learning curve and invest for the long term (you wont’ be successful). In other words, delayed gratification.

“There aren’t many kids willing to pay the price over the long term.”

Eager said the three state hurdlers were not satisfied with doing well in practices or meets: “Their eyes were on their best selves and the top marks in state.

“In practice each of these guys outdid each other in one drill or another. The next day was a different story. So it’s a culture we’ve built.

“To borrow another program’s motto: always compete.”

Nelson points to coach Eager for the success of the Falcon hurdlers.

“I am really proud of the hurdle team we had, but, more importantly, the coach of the hurdle team, Mark Eager. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he has done for the hurdle team — three boy hurdlers in one year and all of them place in the top eight. He is by far the best coach in Washington state.”

Cody Eager said he took up the hurdles because his father was a hurdler and he “wanted to be like him.”

He called “dedication” the key to the trio’s success.

“I believe that the reason why we have the three best hurdlers in the state for 1A,” he said last spring, “is because we are all very dedicated athletes.

“Our hurdle group works hard and we don’t give in easily. While we are a very dedicated group of athletes, we are also lucky enough to have a coach that puts equal amount of passion and effort into our training and helping us achieve our goals.”

In addition to the three placing in the top eight in the 110 hurdles at state, Hezel finished sixth and Nelson eighth in the 300 hurdles.

Cody Eager missed a year and a half with a back injury, and that helped him develop a positive mindset.

“No matter what happens, you must make the best of your situation,” he said before the season was canceled. “When working on hurdles, there is a lot of technique work that goes into it and it can be very frustrating at times. However, by maintaining this positive mindset, I learned that you can achieve your goals faster.”

Eager, now a senior, is the only one of the three with a chance to earn another state medal. The positive mindset and patience he spoke of last spring is being tested once again amid the coronavirus chaos.

Kole Nelson. (File photo)

Kole Nelson. (File photo)

Bodie Hezel. (File photo)

Bodie Hezel. (File photo)

Cody Eager. (File photo)

Cody Eager. (File photo)