OREGON – After a fourth-place finish in the 2013 1A state track meet, Oregon coach Jim Spratt knew the prospects for another successful year were in serious jeopardy. Besides losing a stellar senior class, two returning state relay medalists did not come out for the team.
It was a struggle for most of the year for the youthful squad, but seniors Ashton Rutherford, Josh Drew and Pierce Dhaese led the Hawks to five first-place finishes and a runner-up team finish behind Byron (120-80) at the 1A Oregon Sectional on Friday at Landers-Loomis Field.
“I’m ecstatic. We’ve achieved so much from where we were at the beginning of the year,” Spratt said. “The seniors had to shoulder more of a load than any other group I’ve had, and they’ve done it magnificently.”
The most magnificent of all was Rutherford, who ran lead legs on winning 400 and 800 relays, won the 300 hurdles, and broke a school record in the pole vault.
“It’s a good night to be Ashton. He was phenomenal again,” Spratt said.
With nearly the entire crowd gathered around the pole vault pit, Rutherford cleared 14 feet, 7 inches on his third attempt to break former state champ Adam Tate’s 2005 school record of 14-6.
“I’ve been waiting for the school record since my freshman year, when I first discovered I could vault,” Rutherford said. “After getting too hyped up and choking last year, I had to calm myself down and take advantage of the perfect conditions. With everyone watching, I also wanted to give them a show.”
Just as remarkable was that the record-setting vault was made on a new pole that Rutherford had never used before.
“That would scare the crap out of most vaulters,” Spratt said. “Not him – he’s fearless.”
For an encore, Rutherford cruised to an easy win in the 300 hurdles with a time of 42.38 seconds.
The real surprise of the meet for Oregon, though, was Rutherford’s future track teammate at St. Ambrose, Josh Drew.
Drew, who has never qualified for an event downstate, anchored the 400 (44.51) and 800 (1:32.86) relays to wins, led off the winning 1,600 relay (3:31), and stunned even Spratt by finishing second in the 100 meters (11.66) in a photo finish.
“At the beginning of the year, I never thought this was possible,” Drew said.
“Here’s a 4-year track guy finally getting rewarded,” Spratt said. “No one was carrying him. Qualifying in the 100 was on his own merit.”
Dhaese, the only returner from last year's state championship 1,600 relay team, capped off the meet for the Hawks by anchoring a come-from-behind win in that relay. He also ran legs on the 400 and 800 relays.
“Relays are a tradition at Oregon,” Dhaese said. “I can run faster in the 4x400 than the open 400 because of the excitement of it.”
Another Hawk senior, Troy Pudlas, qualified in the discus with a second-place throw of 151-8. Freshman Caleb Mennen ran a leg on the 1,600 relay, and sophomore newcomer Mitch Nehrkorn ran on all three winning relays.
Polo-Forreston had hopes of qualifying all four of its relays, but took third in the 3,200 and 400. The team of Max Barkalow, Nathan Stukenberg and Brian and Brad Cavanaugh did place second in the 800 relay (1:32.93) to advance to state.
The Cavanaugh brothers tied for the third in the high jump, losing on misses to three-event winner Chris Walker of North Boone and Peter Hodapp of Byron, with all four clearing 6-1.
“We had a lot of bridesmaids with the third places,” said a disappointed P-F coach Ryan Deets.
Coming around the curve on the final leg of the 1,600 relay, Oregon and Byron were battling it out for first place, with what appeared to be P-F destined for another third place. Somehow, though, Dhaese’s cleats ended up knocking the baton out of the hand of Byron’s most experienced runner, T.J. Pitcock. A fast-approaching Brian Cavanaugh took advantage of the miscue and followed Dhaese home for second (3:33).
“I was at the far end and didn’t even see it,” Deets said. “Next thing I know, we’re in second. Thankfully, that didn’t end up being our third third-place in the relays.”
Brian Cavanaugh also repeated as a triple jump state qualifier. Walker won the event with a leap of 45-2, and Cavanaugh went 41-6.
Jeff Casey of West Carroll took advantage of the favored Pitcock not running the 1,600 meters to earn a state berth with a second-place time of 4:50.
Polo-Forreston scored 64 points to finish fourth, right behind Rockford Christian (65). North Boone was a close fifth with 63.
Class 1A Oregon Sectional
Top 5 teams
1. Byron 120; 2. Oregon 80; 3. Rockford Christian 65; 4. Polo-Forreston 64; 5. North Boone 63
Star of the meet: Ashton Rutherford, Oregon, wopn pole vault with sccool-record 14-7; won 300 hurdles, led off wining 400 & 800 relays
Up next: Class 1A State Meet, Thursday-Saturday, at Charleston