by: TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Valley Catholic senior Cooper Roach celebrates his come-from-behind win in the 1,500 at the 3A State Championships on Friday. Roach tore his glute during the season, but came back in time for state to beat his teammate and good friend Wilder Boyden.

Through every spoiling setback, each pessimistic medical prognosis and every vexing venture on the road to recovery, Valley Catholic’s Cooper Roach refused to give up hope.

When doctors told the reigning 800-meter and 1,500 state champion his torn glute would keep him from competing at the 2014 3A State Championships, Roach rebuffed their statements. He promised to vigorously rehab the leg and return in time for the postseason, if not for himself, but for his Valiant teammates

And, after all, the senior had a promise to fulfill.

A year after telling teammate Wilder Boyden the two star long distance runners would finish first and second in the 1,500 at state this year, Roach — running just his second race of the season — upheld his end of the bargain on Friday at Hayward Field in Eugene, sprinting past his teammate with 100 meters to take gold in the 1,500 (4:08). Boyden, in turn, followed suit, coming in ahead of Creswell’s Zach Bellew for second overall (4:09).

“Part way through the season, I didn’t think I’d even be running at state,” said Roach. “It was that bad. But, to come back, contend for a title and end up winning? It was a relief and joy to accomplish that. I owe everything to my coaches and teammates. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. There were the ones who pushed me to be here.”

For Roach — who at one point said there was real uncertainty about whether he’d run again for Valley — the victory and forecasted first, second finish between he and Boyden was better than nearly anything else he’d accomplished in his career.

“I had to come back and make it happen,” said Roach. “There was a lot of doubt, but I worked tirelessly trying to rehab. To get back and only run once before this is pretty amazing.”

Boyden said he didn’t believe Roach’s declaration as the two traveled back from the ‘13 state championships last spring. But, Boyden put in a full winter of training. Likewise, Roach said his solid winter training gave him “a huge base”, and knew his cardio level was still high despite sitting out most of the track season. Times kept dropping and suddenly going one, two became “a tangible reality”. And, when Roach returned for the district meet looking like his old self, the pair of stellar long distance runners went about ensuring their year-long grails went into actuality.

“I was overjoyed that I could finish with such a great teammate,” said Boyden. “We’ve become good friends the past two years. It’s cool to now be able run with him. When I was a freshman I thought he was a senior because he was so good. But, I guarantee I could not have run what I did without a teammate pushing me. It all comes to running with your team.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Valley Catholics Cooper Roach and Wilder Boyden finished first and second in the 1,500 to help the Valiants take second overall in 3A.

Boyden said the 1,500 was a “nice, technical race” between him and Roach. Well-aware that Umatilla’s Fabian Cardenas and Creswell’s Zach Bellew ran the 3,000 on Thursday, Boyden and Roach knew they could sit back on the first couple laps and close quickly.

“I think I have one of the better finishes in the state, but honestly I just don’t like losing,” said Roach. “I was just thinking ‘Don’t leave anything out.’ I was going to give everything I had to win. And, having Wilder there to push me was just awesome. Without him I probably wouldn’t have won.”

“Once Cooper closes, nothing’s going to pass him,” added Boyden. “We gave ourselves a shot and got in good position. I closed similarly to (Roach) and held off Bellew, so I’m very happy with my race.”

Roach’s win, coupled with rock-solid showings up and down the Valiant docket, gave the Valley boys a second-place trophy in its final year in 3A.

“The whole time we were talking about running for team,” said Roach. “It feels amazing to get an individual win, but if you get a win with your entire team, it’s even better because you can celebrate it with everybody.”

Jarrett Gray’s individual state title nearly didn’t transpire as the senior missed two 6-foot jumps in the preliminary high-jump flights, putting the onus on a do-or-die third attempt to continue on at the state level. Never one to shy away from pressure, whether it’s the boys’ basketball 3A state championship game or jumping in front of thousands at Hayward, Gray rose to the challenge — literally — clearing his final 6-foot attempt to advance. Gray said after the first flight scare, he mentally went back to Valley’s first dual meet of the season, when “I really had no idea what I was doing”. He tried not to think as much about the form, and just let his athletic gifts and natural instincts as a jumper take hold.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior Jarrett Gray cleared 6-05 in the high jump to clinch the 3A State Championship on Friday. Gray was a rookie this year on the track and field scene.

“I got a little nervous there,” said Gray with a smile. “But I talked to my coaches, made a couple of adjustments and got my form down. After I cleared the third attempt, I was relieved. I knew I was still in it and I had a chance. I just had focus on my form and really get in the air.”

The senior kept rising too, eventually clearing 6-05 to match his personal best and punctuate an outstanding rookie track and field season with a first place medal.

“To be where I am, I don’t think I’d get here,” said Gray. “I just joined track to hang out with my friends, and I never thought I’d be in Eugene competing for a state championship. I had a lot of help from the coaches at practice and a lot of people.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior Tysen Prunty took fourth in both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles to help the Valiant boys take second overall as a team.

Sophomore Ben Davidson took third in the 3,000 (9:08) on Thursday, leading the second pack of competitors for most of the race and setting a new personal record in the process. Davidson felt “broken down” at the district meet last week, yet said he was “in better shape” at state and was ready for the rigors of the race.

“About three or four hours before the race it started to hit me that this was the last race of the season and I needed to perform,” said Davidson. “Seeing the whole atmosphere and the competitiveness of it kind of freaked me out, so I was pretty nervous. But, once the race started all those butterflies went away and I just went into race mode.”

Unsure about his season’s projection and battling injuries throughout the season, Davidson said placing high at state and helping Valley take second punctuated his sophomore campaign. Tysen Prunty took fourth in both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. Nathaniel Trobough was fourth in the 400. Kazuma Lane placed fifth in the javelin and eighth in the discus. Boyden and Roach took eighth and ninth in the 800.

“It’s an awesome feeling, not just running for yourself but for your teammates,” said Davidson. “Knowing that you’re going to be up there in contention and have to give it everything for the people around you is a pretty cool feeling. There’s nothing better than winning a team trophy. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about: Working with your teammates, striving together to get better not just individually, but as a team.”

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