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Benson burners

• Benson girls waste no time on their way to setting track and field records

The impressive thing about the Benson girls track and field team isn't that the Techsters set the state's all-time best in the short and long relays this season. It's at what point in the season they set the 4x100 and 4x400 marks Ñ six weeks before the state meet.

With six weeks of practice, there's no telling how fast Benson's sprinters can run, individually and together.

'We can get below 3:50 in the long relay,' says senior Brandi Probasco-Canda, the state champion at 400 meters the last two years. 'I feel like I'm ahead of where I was last year at this time, so I'm going to be faster.'

At 3 minutes, 50 seconds, the Techsters would take more than two seconds off their best of 3:52.14, which is more than a second faster than they ran last year.

'We still have some things we can do to get faster,' says senior Deborah Jones, who also anchors the 4x100 team that has run 47.44. 'And I feel like I'm faster than I was last year.'

As the weather warms and tracks dry out, the Techsters are likely to begin breaking records regularly.

On Saturday, they'll be at the Centennial Invitational. The Portland Interscholastic League meet is May 20 and 22 at Marshall, and the state meet is May 30-31 at the University of Oregon.

Benson has won the last four Class 4A titles and are, blushingly, overwhelming favorites to win again.

'I kind of like to beat around the bush about that one, but É yeah, we're going to win,' Jones says. 'It's not something we worry about.'

Benson coach Leon McKenzie isn't worried about his team winning or the girls getting faster, either.

'I know they can get faster, not only this year but in college,' he says. 'It's just a matter of them staying focused and trying hard.

'We never use the girls up here. They'll have room to mature and get faster when they leave here.'

On the fast track

Benson won its first girls title in 1991 but didn't start its dynasty until 1999, when it edged Jesuit for the title by 29 points. Since then, the Techsters have dominated the meet, scoring 100 points last year Ñ the equivalent of winning 10 of the 17 events. Second-place South Eugene had 50 points.

Jones and Probasco-Canda, the current core, are seniors, but the Techsters have plenty of depth in junior Ashley Taylor and sophomore Sara Callier. And senior Priscilla Chandler, the school's Rose Festival ambassador, is just finding her way into meets.

Jones, Taylor and Callier finished first, second and fourth, respectively, in the 100 at the 2002 state meet, scoring 23 points in that event alone.

Benson scores in field events, too, with senior Sherena Smith.

Most of the girls met McKenzie through relatives and the Portland Metro Track Club, a youth program he ran for many years but has since closed.

'Coach McKenzie was calling me 'his girl,' since I was 9, so I definitely knew I was going to Benson,' says Callier, whose cousin Olivia also attended Benson and helped the school win state titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. 'But we put a lot of work in to get faster Ñ plyometrics, stretching, speed training. It doesn't just happen.'

Deborah Jones' sister, Janita, helped Benson win state in '99.

McKenzie says the club played a key role in building the Benson program because it gave his young stars a start in the sport.

'With no middle school sports in the city, it would be very difficult to compete at an elite level with kids who just start when they get to high school,' he says.

Speed Merchants

At the Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles on April 12, Benson set the all-time Oregon best in both the short and long relays, and the girls are getting faster.

Jones ran the 100 in 11.54 at the Westview Invitational on Saturday, and Callier was just behind at 12.12, which was faster than Jones' winning time at state last year.

The all-time 100 best is 11.05, set in 1968 by Churchill's Margaret Bailes Johnson, who also holds the 200 record at 23.5. Jones ran 24.60 last year.

Jones ran 54.63 in the 400 at the PIL district meet last year, and Probasco-Canda won the state meet in 54.64. The all-time best is 53.79, set in '97 by North Salem's Sasha Spencer.

Two years ago, Jones would have been the first Class 4A girl to win the 100, 200 and 400 at state, but Probasco-Canda edged her in the 400. Last year, Jones finished third in the 400 after winning the 100 and 200.

'If Deborah wants to win all three races, she's going to have to beat me,' says Probasco-Canda, who is headed for Washington State. 'We're friends, but that's not how things are on the track. Out there, we're competing against each other. My feeling is, if you want it, bring it on.'

Jones, who will attend Texas Christian University, is considering trying the unique triple again.

Whatever the seniors do, Sara Callier and others already are planning to keep the Benson dynasty going next year.

'We have some depth; Ashley and I will be back,' she says. 'But I definitely want to keep the state titles going. That's important to me.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..