Cade Reed and Nathan Reed had just completed their second 1-2 finish of the day at the state track and field championships. About an hour prior, they had swept the top spots in the boys 110 hurdles. Now, they had done it again in the 300 hurdles.
It was a sweep that gave the Tigers an insurmountable lead in the Class 4A team standings, and it meant for the first time ever, La Grande would be the state champions in track.
The result of that victory brought La Grande head coach Julie Bodfish to tears.
The coach recounted how close she had come to an individual title as an athlete for LHS back in the mid-1970s, when she finished second three times, and recalled being on the coaching staff when the Tiger boys tied for second in 1985.
Now, at long last, La Grande has a distinction that had long eluded it.
“It’s so much sweeter to have my kids do it,” Bodfish said through tears of joy. “It’s the best thing ever.”
Boosted by the Reed brothers’ sweep in both hurdle races and a win in the triple jump by Nick Tsiatsos and capped by an icing-on-the-cake victory in the 4-by-400 relay, the La Grande boys scored 94 points to earn the program’s long-awaited first state track and field championship Saturday at Hayward Field in Eugene.
“It just means everything to all of them. It’s an amazing group of young men,” Bodfish said. “They couldn’t be better athletes, (and) they couldn’t be better young men. To have a brand-new track (at LHS) this year, after so many years of suffering through no facility, and to come out and just step on the track and show your presence with confidence, it’s a dream come true.”
The Tigers were tied with Crook County headed into the 300 hurdles, the second-to-last event at the state meet. Both teams had 66 points and had spent much of Saturday afternoon jockeying back and forth for the lead.
But La Grande had an edge going into that decisive hurdle race. Cade Reed and Nathan Reed had just scored a combined 18 points in their 1-2 finish in the 110 hurdles, with Cade winning in 15.25 seconds and Nathan taking second in 15.48. Crook County, however, had nobody in the race.
The brothers knew another strong finish in a race they entered seeded first and second would lock up the state championship.
“I talked to Nathan about it,” Cade said. “Our first idea was, ‘Why not go 1-2 again?’ We definitely had that in mind. I don’t think that necessarily affected the race, but we wanted to do it for the team, and we knew that if we won that, that would set us above, and nobody else would be able to touch us from there.”
The rest of the team knew it as well.
“We were like, ‘They just have to run their race, and if they run their race we’ve got a state title,’” Tsiatsos said. “Everyone was going crazy. Everyone knew what was happening. It was a great moment.”
Elation, joy, shock and awe followed once they crossed the finish line first and second again, Cade winning in 39.60 and Nathan following in 40.03.
“That’s been our goal since the beginning of the year, to go 1-2 in both hurdles,” Nathan said. “We’re just super excited that we could get a team title and seal that up for our team.”
The Tigers entered the final day of the meet in fourth place, and at the time it appeared they would need every point possible if they were to work their way to the top.
They got just that. Zach Wiggins and Hunter Youngblood both cleared 6-feet-0 on the high jump to place sixth and seventh to open the day. The 4-by-100 relay team of Reed, Tsiatsos, Luke Bloodgood and Sajun White took fifth in 43.78 seconds. Bennett Welch, who had taken third in the 3,000 the day before in 9:00.07, added an eight-place finish in the 1,500 in 4:14.76.
Those were added to a sixth-place finish by Jacob Huntsman in the pole vault from Friday at 12-feet-6 and a 3-4 finish by Tsiatsos and Wiggins in the long jump Friday at 20-feet-8-1/4 and 20-feet-5-3/4, respectively, and La Grande’s point total inched upward.
The turning point, though, according to Bodfish, came when Tsiatsos and Youngblood placed first and seventh in the triple jump at respective distances of 43-feet-7-3/4 and 40-feet-1-1/2.
“Tsiatsos winning the triple jump kind of turned the tide. We knew as long as we kept rolling like that we were going to be OK,” the coach said.
Tsiatsos twice turned in a personal best during the triple jump and made up for what he felt was a less than stellar effort in the long jump Friday.
He did so while struggling with a tight right quadricep and while trying to balance running his 4-by-100 leg and throwing the javelin — all of which were taking place at the same time.
“My first two jumps felt good, and it started to get a little tender after that,” he said. “I just knew it was going to be a challenge and I couldn’t let my teammates down.”
That win gave the Tigers the lead in the team standings. Crook County took it back for a short period, but the Reeds’ first hurdle sweep swung the momentum back to La Grande, and a few additional points picked up along the way, including White’s fourth-place finish in the 200 (22.84) and an eighth-place finish in the 100 (11.42), set the stage for the hurdles.
And as for that victory lap in the 4-by-400 relay? La Grande’s team of Bloodgood, Youngblood, Cade Reed and White won in a time of 3:26.13, which boosted the Tigers to 94 points, 20 ahead of Crook County.
“It was really the icing on the cake. Exclamation point,” Bodfish said.
La Grande also had a 12th-place finish by Cristian Mendoza in the 1,500 (4:25.82). Tyran Pierson was 13th in the shot put (41-feet-8), Tsiatsos was 14th in the javelin (137-feet-1) and Giovanni Correa and Westin Blake were 12th and 13th, respectively, in the preliminaries of the 800.
The title comes in La Grande’s first year with its new track, as well as in the final year the state meet will be held at Hayward Field before it undergoes a complete renovation.
“We had a very long talk with the kids on Friday night,” Bodfish. “We talked about Hayward Field and the tradition of Hayward Field, and all of us coaches have been athletes at Hayward Field. We read a quote to the kids from (legendary Oregon runner Steve) Prefontaine, and we talked about what it would mean to be state champions at Hayward Field on the last original Hayward Field.”
There’s no need to just talk about it anymore. It’s a reality. And one that few of the athletes had words for.
“I’m just speechless because we got (the title),” White said.
LHS girls show more improvement
The La Grande girls track and field team is slowly moving up the state rankings.
After scoring just two points as a team in 2016 and 14.2 points last year, the Tigers finished with 17 points to place 16th at the Class 4A girls state championships in Eugene.
Rachael Keniry provided the big boost for La Grande. The sophomore took sixth in the 3,000 Friday in 10:52.94, and followed by placing third in the 1,500 Saturday in 4:51.32, both of which were personal bests by a large margin.
“Third place out of her — we weren’t really expecting that, (but) we knew she could do it,” head coach Julie Bodfish said. “She could be a state champion next year. She’s an amazing athlete.”
Keniry said she went in aiming to break the 5-minute mark in the 1,500 but was unsure of what she could get in the 3,000.
“I didn’t really have a goal for the 3,000,” she said. “I wanted to break 11 (minutes), but I didn’t think that I could, and so when I did I was really excited.”
Freshman Katie Brown added a sixth-place finish in the 100 in 12.88, and took eighth in the 200 in 27.10. La Grande also got on the podium with its 4-by-100 relay team, as Brown, Irelyn Miles, Karsen Williams and Kelsey Brown placed fifth in 50.82.
La Grande also had a handful of athletes finish just outside of scoring range. Katie Brown, Miles, Williams and Kendra Blake were 12th in the 4-by-400 relay in 4:17.81. Blake was ninth in the 1,500 (5:05.05). Kelsey Brown was ninth in the triple jump (33-feet-3-3/4) and 15th in the long jump (15-feet-2). Anna Green placed 12th in the discus (92-feet-4), and Ariana Shukle was 15th in the shot put (29-feet-1-3/4). Blake (12th in 800), Abby Crews (14th in 800), Miles (13th in 400), Kristal Jensen (14th in 100 hurdles) and Kelsey Brown (10th in 200) all ran preliminary races but missed the finals.
Keniry said that watching the La Grande boys clinch the state title gives her hope that the girls team, which will retain most of its scoring athletes from this year, can make a greater move in the coming years.
“I think that this really makes it seem more reachable to us, like it could actually happen if we work hard,” she said.