BYRON – With cool temperatures, overcast skies and no wind to speak of, Oregon track coach Jim Spratt had just one piece of advice for pole vaulter Ashton Rutherford.
"Make the most of this moment," Spratt said to his senior. "You never know when these conditions are going to come around again."
Rutherford followed directions to a T at the Big Northern Meet on Thursday. After securing the win with fewer misses at 13-6 to tie his personal best, Rutherford locked in the victory by clearing 14 feet on his final try, then did the same thing at 14-3 before calling it a day after two attempts at 14-6 – which would have tied Adam Tate's school record.
It was doubly sweet for Rutherford when vault coach Andy Colbert reminded him that he had also won last year's conference title with that personal-best 13-6.
"I feel really good about this," said Rutherford, the area's lone BNC champ. "The conditions were perfect, it was great competition, and all that helped me get up there [to 14-3].
"I came in hoping for 13-6, and when I had it won there with fewer misses, we skipped 13-9 and went right to 14-0 to make sure. I had nothing to lose, and things were really working for me today."
Rutherford cleared 13-6 on his second attempt, while Burlington Central's Sean Kisch made the height on his third try. With only those two still in the running, Kisch never came close to making 14 feet, while Rutherford nearly made it twice.
After just missing on his first attempt, Rutherford couldn't explode at the top of his second vault. After Colbert told him to forget that one and just focus on imitating the first one, Rutherford cleared the bar easily.
He then shook off any exhaustion on his third attempt at 14-3, again clearing the bar with a little room to spare. At 14-6, he gave it a shot twice, then bowed out to get cooled down for the 300 hurdles race.
"The pole vault always warms me up and gets me going," Rutherford said. "Coach says you have to be crazy to vault or hurdle, and I do both. I guess I was really feeling crazy tonight."
After stopping midway through the vault competition to run the 400 relay and 110 hurdle finals, Rutherford walked back to the vault area muttering to himself after a sixth-place finish (16.10) in those hurdles.
But after exorcising those 110 demons with the vault of his life, Rutherford kept his groove going in the 300 hurdles. In a race for second behind BNC champ Lucas Ege of Burlington Central (38.95), Rutherford cruised past the rest of the competition in a smooth 42.29 seconds, with a welcome clean run after some missteps in the 110s.
"Most guys take off as fast as they can right out of the blocks, and end up blowing all their energy by the time they get to the curve," Rutherford said. "I just pace myself at the start, then use my short legs to make up that ground in the curve. I just put all the energy in my legs and kick it in down the straightaway."
Both the hurdles times were PRs, matching the vault. He teamed with Pierce Dhaese, Josh Drew and Troy Pudlas to take fourth in the 400 relay (44.90), meaning the senior accounted for four of the Hawks' eight top-six finishes.
Pudlas added a third-place finish in the discus, throwing a 140-5. While much happier with that placing than the shot put (7th, 40-6˝), Pudlas still was looking for more.
"It could've been better today, to be honest," said Pudlas, who said he would love to make state in both throwing events, but would happily settle for a state spot in the discus. "It's going to be lots of practice this week, working out some of the minor kinks, but I'm definitely ready to get back out there and do better."
Dhaese was fourth in the 400 (52.48), and teamed with Drew, Caleb Mennen and Mitchell Nehrkorn to take sixth in the 1,600 relay (3:36.65). Oregon's other points came from a fifth in the 3,200 relay (8:44.46), from the quartet of Austin Burkhart, Adam Weller, Jordan Rogers and Alex Sitze. The Hawks finished with 38 points, good for sixth in the 14-team meet.
Rock Falls scored 20 points to place 11th. The Rockets were led by a 2-3 finish in the 3,200 from Brayden Hamblen (9:42.48) and Seth Williams (9:45.40), with both times beating the previous conference record of 9:45.80, set by Oregon's Andy Tremble in 2002. Winner Clay Musial clocked a 9:40.93.
That was the lone event for Hamblen, who scratched out of the 1,600 due to soreness in his left knee.
"I just have to roll it out with a roller and get some ice on it, and I'll be fine," said the Rock Falls freshman, who was noticeably limping after the race. "I ran a stupid race; I know I could've had him if I had waited to push it until the last 200, but I went too early. I ran like a freshman, and I have to get past the mental part.
"But now that Seth and I both hit state qualifying [9:49.24], we're going to have some confidence going into next week, because we proved to ourselves that we can do it."
Williams later ran in the 1,600, but faded to 11th (4:47.55) due in part to the blistering pace of the 3,200 earlier in the evening.
"I was still tired from the 2-mile," Williams admitted, "but I'm really happy with that race. It was a PR by 20 or 30 seconds, and I knew if I just hung with the talented guys in that field, my talent would show, too. I've got big hopes for next week now, and I'm definitely hungry to run another fast race again."
The Rockets' other scorers were the 800 relay foursome of Trenden Schwindenhammer, David Villa, Brandon Boyer and Adrian Villa, who clocked a 1:37.30 for fourth place, and Boyer's fifth-place finish in the high jump (5-11). Boyer made the triple jump finals, but finished eighth (36-9).
Burlington Central won the team title going away, as the 2A school racked up 150 points to double-up runner-up Winnebago (71.25). Byron was third (66.25), North Boone finished fourth (42), and Rockford Christian (41.25) rounded out the top five.
Besides the meet record in the 3,200, Winnebago's Jeff Swanson set a new 400 mark in 49.55, as did Burlington Central in the 1,600 relay (3:24.59). North Boone's Chris Walker came up a half-inch short of the conference record in the triple jump with a 33-4˝.
Boys track & field
Big Northern Conference Meet
Top 3 teams
1. Burlington Central 150; 2. Winnebago 71.25; 3. Byron 66.25
Local star: Ashton Rutherford, Oregon, won pole vault with new PR, 2nd in 300 hurdles with new PR, 6th in 110 hurdles with new PR, ran on 4th-place 400 relay team
Road ahead: Oregon at Class 1A Oregon Sectional & Rock Falls at Class 2A Burlington Central, both Friday, May 23