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Saving spring sports gave these 9 athletes a stage

Just think what Portland's prep athletes and sports fans would have missed had a two-month fund-raising drive not collected $500,000 to save PIL spring sports.

Track and field athletes excelled at record levels: Lincoln's Mike McGrath set an all-time state best in the boys 800 meters, and Benson's girls, led by Deborah Jones, rewrote the state record in both relays. Tennis stars Momei Qu and Tommy Hicks reached the state singles finals.

The Tribune has picked nine competitors, from seven of the league's 10 schools, as the best in their spring sport. Tracy Harrell and Joaquin Chapa share the boys track and field honor because each won three events at the Portland Interscholastic League district meet. The others either won their district tournament or were voted player of the year by the league's coaches.

Ñ Cliff Pfenning

Tracy Harrell

A junior at Jefferson, Harrell was rivaled only by Cleveland golf champ Mark Howe in coming from nowhere to become a star in his sport.

Harrell didn't go out for track until his sophomore year. He saw running track as a way to stay in shape for football; he plays running back for the Democrats. At the district track meet May 22, he won the 100 and 200 meters and ran the first leg on the winning 4x100 relay.

At state, he reached the final in all three events and helped the 4x100 team take first place. It was Jefferson's first win in an event at state in seven years.

'We can always use respect at our school,' Harrell says. 'Winning state is a great way to get that, and maybe it will have a positive impact on the number of guys who show up for sports next year.'

John Fisher

The Grant senior pounded out hits aplenty and helped the Generals win their first PIL baseball title in 12 years.

Fisher batted. 389 in league play. He hit five homers in 16 games as a first baseman and was a stalwart on the mound, too, as the Generals rose to No. 3 in the final state rankings. Grant reached the state quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Newberg 3-2.

Fisher won 11 varsity letters in football, wrestling and baseball. He may wind up playing baseball at Mt. Hood Community College.

He says he will remember the final out of the Newberg game for years. He had been ejected for a comment made to the home plate umpire during his previous at-bat. The game ended with his replacement striking out.

'We had a great season with some memorable games,' he says. 'And maybe we would have gone farther if I'd been at the plate (against Newberg). That was my turn, and I should have been batting.'

Holly Marlow

As a Franklin senior, Marlow led the Quakers to their third straight PIL softball title, pitching a no-hitter in the final game of the regular season Ñ in what was a first-place battle with Benson.

The Quakers won only one state playoff game in their three tries, but their three league titles (they shared a championship with Cleveland two years ago) stand out as quality accomplishments. Marlow hopes to continue pitching and winning in college, possibly at Portland State.

Her high school memories include key victories as an underclassman and a prank-filled team trip to California last year.

'The older girls put Kool-Aid packets in the shoes of the freshmen,' she says. 'And it turned their shoes and feet red, so they played with red feet.'

Tommy Hicks

Hicks just finished his sophomore year at Grant, and he's already won the PIL tennis singles title twice.

This year, Hicks surprised many tournament observers by playing into the state final, where he lost to Westview's standout senior, Brett Joelson, 6-1, 6-0.

Hicks' semifinal victory at the state tourney had a Michael Chang feel to it. Hicks cramped up from dehydration in the third set and needed medical attention. Yet he prevailed, and now he figures to be the favorite at state next spring.

'I got to the final, so it makes sense that I should be the guy everyone is aiming for,' he says. 'That's going to be fun.'

This summer, Hicks will be busy playing in various tournaments, including the national championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Momei Qu

The Wilson junior was on a mission to win the state title after finishing second last year. She won her third consecutive PIL singles title, losing just four games in the district tournament.

At state, Qu breezed into the final against frequent foe Emily Kirchem of Reynolds. Qu played aggressively against Kirchem, but her strategy backfired and she lost in two sets.

Qu, who lived in Beijing until age 9, hopes to bring the state title to Wilson next year.

'The best part of the season was getting to know my teammates better,' she says.

Joaquin Chapa

The Chapa name is royalty in running circles. Rudy Chapa ran track for the University of Oregon from 1977-81, winning two conference 1,500-meter titles and one NCAA 5,000 crown. But Rudy's son, Joaquin, mostly ran in the shadow of Grant classmate Alec Wall, in both cross country and track, until this spring.

Joaquin Chapa captured the 800 and 1,500 district meet titles this year and ran the anchor leg of the winning 4x400 relay team. He went on to win the state crown in the 1,500 at Hayward Field. It was a special place for him because he had trained there many times with his father.

Chapa is headed for Stanford University to study medicine.

'If it had just been about the track and field team, I would be attending Oregon, because of the facilities,' he says. 'But it was an academic decision, and that made me lean to Stanford.'

Deborah Jones

Jones graduated from Benson as one of the PIL's most decorated athletes ever. She won seven individual state track titles, winning at 100, 200 and 400 meters and leading the Techsters to five relay victories. Benson's girls won the state title in all four years of the Jones era.

Jones grew up running with many of the Techsters through a club team organized by Benson coach Leon McKenzie. She holds the district meet record in the 200 and 400 and the state-meet record in the 200.

She'll run at Texas Christian University beginning this fall after dazzling fans the last four years at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field.

'I really enjoyed running at the state meet,' she says. 'And being the high-point scorer during the state meet, that was always a thrill. I'm going to miss Oregon.'

Cassie Castleman

As a senior at Lincoln, Castleman experienced the pressure of being the defending state golf champion. She didn't repeat, but she completed a solid high school career and continues to dream of playing professionally.

She won the district title by one stroke over Grant's May Lynn Chu, then finished fourth in the state tournament.

Castleman made it to the state tourney all four years and was on the St. Mary's Blues team that won the state title in 2001.

Castleman, who is headed to the University of Idaho, says she enjoyed the team feel of the Cardinals this year. Lincoln won the league title for the third straight year and moved up to 10th place in the state standings.

'My girls played really well,' Castleman says. 'I'm really happy with how well we did as a team at state.'

Mark Howe

The Cleveland junior won the district golf crown by eight strokes, shooting a 2-under par 70 at Heron Lakes in the final round and leading the Warriors to their first team title in 20 years.

Howe grew up in Southeast Portland and calls Eastmoreland Golf Course his home turf. His game began to pick up last summer, when he won the low-net title at the Eastmoreland club championships.

'When I won low-net last year, that really opened my eyes up,' he says. 'I'm playing with a lot of confidence now, confidence I didn't have until that tournament.'

Howe is planning to make another leap next year, one that will help the Warriors contend for a state trophy.