EUGENE — For the first time ever, the Joseph Eagles can claim they have the best Class 1A track and field team in the state.
Annie Duncan made up a sizeable deficit in the final leg of the girls 4-by-400 relay and pulled ahead with roughly 30 to 50 meters to go to give the Eagles the win with a time of 4 minutes, 22.19 seconds in the final 1A girls race of the OSAA Track and Field State Championships Friday at Hayward Field.
“It’s so exciting. I’m so happy for our team,” Duncan said. “We all just did so great today. It’s such an exciting moment. I’m so happy for all of us.”
The victory, coupled with Griswold’s third-place finish in the relay, gave Joseph 70 team points and the title, one point ahead of the Grizzlies, who scored 69 points.
“It’s a big deal. It’s never been won up there before,” head coach John Roberts said. “For these girls, and the girls that are coming up, (it shows) it’s a good program to jump on and ride it as long as you can.
“I’ve got a good bunch of girls and they’re tough.”
When Duncan was handed the baton in the relay, she was a distant third, trailing by roughly seven to 10 seconds, but the junior made up the wide margin and completed the stunning comeback in the closing meters.
“Annie Duncan ran the race of her life on the last leg,” Roberts said. “She probably went under 60 seconds on her leg to catch up and win.”
The shocking final race capped a masterful second-day performance and made what was a dream for the Eagles a reality.
Joseph was sitting second entering Friday and trailed Griswold, which had a strong field performance Thursday, by 20 points.
A Joseph rally didn’t look promising, either, when the races started Friday with the Eagles dropping the baton during the 4-by-100.
“We’ve been watching them all day and counting (the points) and going through to see which ones we would get,” freshman Haley Miller said. “And we did think we were going to get third or second.”
The team, though, began to close in on the Grizzlies and made up quite a bit of that ground.
Miller, who ran the second leg of the winning relay, played an important role in the Eagles’ rally with wins in the 800 (2 minutes, 27.55 seconds) and 1,500 (4:58.11).
Isabelle Tingelstad finished third in the 1,500 (5:08.21) while also running a leg in the relay.
“I’ve just got good kids,” Roberts said of the distance runners. “They work hard, they run hard and they’re disciplined.”
Behind those strong performances, the gap slowly closed. Even the efforts that gave Joseph single points became important. Alexis Sykora and Ally Cooney each finished in eighth place during their events Friday — Sykora in the 800 (2:32.08) and Cooney in the triple jump (31 feet, 8-1/4 inches).
Duncan inched the Eagles even closer, taking sixth in the 100 (13.34 seconds), then fourth in the 400 (1:01.82) and later third in the 300 hurdles (47.95). That last race pulled Joseph within three points of the Grizzlies with just the final event, the fateful 4-by-400, remaining.
That’s when the relay team finalized the comeback and snatched the trophy from Griswold, with Duncan leading the way.
“Annie Duncan’s totally a beast,” said Johnelle Suto, who ran the opening leg of the relay.
While each point was obviously needed, the distance team played a huge factor in the title. In fact, 40 of the team’s 70 points were scored by runners in either the 800, the 1,500 or the 3,000.
Tingelstad said the distance team’s tight-knit connection is part of what makes it so strong.
“I think it’s just because we stick together all the time. We push each other to do our best. We’re a family,” she said, later adding that the whole team shares that same bond. “We’ve definitely gotten a lot closer, just in the last couple of weeks. We’ve never been this close before. These last couple of weeks after everyone realized this, especially this state team, we’ve become a lot closer too.”
Now, the community and the state are going to have to start to pay attention, especially given the Eagles don’t have a senior.
“We don’t necessarily get a lot of credit for being such a small school, but showed that we can really amp it up,” Suto said.