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Benson boys gunning for state

Young sprinters give Tech track scoring potential
by:  JIM CLARK, Benson’s Nycole Griffin (right) wins the 100 meters during last Wednesday’s meet at Grant. The sophomore speedster ranks first in Class 6A in the 200 and third in the 100.

Benson High has a legacy of speed on the track, mostly due to the girls who brought the school six consecutive state titles from 1999 through 2004.

This spring, however, coach Leon McKenzie's boys are the ones who could make a run at the Class 6A crown. And the future is not just now. It's next year and the year after.

Sophomore Nycole Griffin ranks first in 6A in the 200 meters (21.88 seconds) and third in the 100 (10.94, within a whisker of the leader, Lincoln's Jordan Polk).

Sophomore Frederick Jackson is third in the 400 (50.36) and has a wind-aided 10.92 100.

Sophomore Paul Johnson, the brother of Notre Dame-bound football lineman Ethan Johnson of Lincoln, and senior Isaiah Jones round out the relay teams that have the fastest marks in the state in both the 4x100 and 4x400. Jones and Jackson also are good open 400-meter runners.

Could the fast foursome be enough to bring Benson its first state championship since McKenzie's crew won three times in the 1990s? Perhaps a tall order.

'We think we're maybe one person short,' McKenzie says. 'Barlow has what I call a lot of validated points -(sprinter-hurdler) Eric Capelle is probably close to a 26-point guy at worst, and they have two good relays and the Crousers (Ryan and Sam) in the throws and some vaulters. They're pretty imposing. Grant has numbers and could be in it if (Paul) McCoy is ready for state. Lincoln has (Nathan) Mathabane and Polk, who could combine for 40 points by themselves, and Lincoln has strong relays. West Salem has two guys who also could get them to 50 points.

'It looks to me like whoever gets to 50 will be the team to beat.'

One problem for Benson, Grant and Lincoln: They might hurt one another, with one or more good competitors missing the list of state qualifiers in what figures to be a fierce PIL 6A district meet May 13 and May 15 at Lewis and Clark College.

The state meet is May 22 through May 24 at Hayward Field in Eugene, and Benson figures to at least make a dent there, though.

And Griffin is the most likely Techman to have an impact. He was able to get into Benson this school year after attending Jefferson, where he did not run track as a freshman.

At 6-0, 190 pounds, with 3 percent to 4 percent body fat, 'he looks manly, but he's still a sophomore,' McKenzie says. 'Greatness is there if he is willing to accept the responsibility of it. We're working on a lot of things to get him to at some point materialize into his enormous potential.'

Jackson is a standout, all-around athlete who has long-jumped 22 feet, 2 inches this year and high-jumped 6-0.

'He's still a raw piece of clay,' McKenzie says, 'but he's learned a lot.'

Jones is 'the leader and soul of our team,' the coach adds.

The big concern for McKenzie is Johnson, who pulled a hamstring Saturday in the cold at an invitational in Pasco, Wash.

'We couldn't run the relays. We don't have a replacement for him,' McKenzie says.

• Benson also has junior Josh Hickman, an up-and-coming hurdler who went a league-best 43-2 1/2 in the triple jump on Saturday, good for fifth on the 6A state-best list.

'He weighed about 100 pounds as a freshman and couldn't lift a bar in the weight room,' McKenzie says. 'But he has committed himself tremendously to working out and gained 50 pounds since he's been in high school.'

• On the girls team, Benson boasts fleet junior Kayla Smith, who owns 6A bests of 12.32 in the 100 and 25.04 in the 200. Her 17-3 1/2 long jump ranks seventh, but McKenzie says she scratched Saturday on 'some monsters that were out about 19 feet.'

• Grant's girls relays are looking good, with Anaiah Rhodes, Kayla Greer, Jahzelle Ambus and Christene Jones running both. The 4x100 ranks second in 6A behind Lincoln's foursome of Arlisha Davis, Hailey Stewart, Kema Harvey and Tiarra Pittman. The Grant crew is No. 1 in the 4x400.

The Generals' boys relays should be very tough, too, although Karl Acker is nursing a sore hamstring.

Grant senior Branden Shimada finished second to Barlow star Capelle in the 300 intermediate hurdles at Friday's Westview Challenge. Shimada's 39.57 clocking ranks second in 6A.

Baseball

Two Southeast Portland schools are flexing their muscles - Franklin knocked off Grant 5-4 in a 6A game last Thursday, while Cleveland won five 5A games in a row to take over first place going into this week.

Franklin, which lost 4-3 to Grant in eight innings last Wednesday, entered the week at 2-5 in league, tied with Lincoln and one game behind Benson. Those three teams are likely to battle the rest of the way for the third playoff berth, with Wilson (8-2) and Grant (5-4) favored to hold on to the top two postseason spots.

'We're getting people in the right places now,' first-year Franklin coach Robbie Trebelhorn says.

The Quakers began the year with a senior-laden varsity, but after 10 players at the lower levels didn't meet academic standards, the Quakers combined the junior varsity and freshman teams and moved some JV players up to the varsity. All three have produced: Matt Bushek pitched the victory over Grant, Anthony Lopez is playing shortstop and pitched, and Spencer Antonevich has played second and hit well, breaking up a no-hitter by Wilson ace Stuart Fewel, probably the league's top hurler.

Cleveland has a big week ahead, weather permitting. The Warriors were scheduled to face second-place Madison (4-3) on Monday, Wednesday (at Madison) and Thursday (at Powell Park).

Sophomore Rudy Corbett has been dominating on the mound for Cleveland; he struck out 15 Marshall batters and seven Roosevelt hitters in a 3-1 victory (and duel with Rider pitcher Justin Wilmoth) that took a tidy 90 minutes. Wilmoth's mammoth homer on a changeup provided Roosevelt with its only run.

Softball

Cleveland all but sewed up the 5A title for the second year when it beat Marshall 10-0 in six innings Friday. The Warriors are 2-0 against the Minutemaids, with one game remaining in the series, and Cleveland is 7-0 in league to Marshall's 5-2.

'We've been doing a lot of hitting and infield drills,' Cleveland coach Richard Breece says, 'and the kids are all hitting pretty good. They've got a rhythm going and aren't afraid to get up there and swing.'

The Warriors are looking forward to better competition this week - they're scheduled to face Wilson at Rieke on Wednesday and 6A leader Grant on Thursday at Delta Park. And, on Monday, the Warriors are due to play Franklin at Delta.

Lacrosse

Lincoln's boys are piling up more wins. The Cardinals, who have made it to the state semifinals the last three years only to lose to Lakeridge each time, are 9-1 after last week's victory over Wilson.

The first of two games against 7-2 Oregon Episcopal School - matches that should again decide the Columbia Division champion - is at 8 p.m. Friday at Lincoln. Both teams are 3-0 in league. They will meet twice in the regular season, clashing in the regular-season finale May 13 at OES.

The Cardinals recently swept all three of their games in the Jerry Langkammerer Tournament (also known as the Best of the West) in San Francisco. Lincoln coach Will Harris concedes that Lincoln drew 'three of the lesser teams' entered, but takes nothing away from his squad's play. 'We did really well,' he says.

Harris hopes to set up a match next month at Bainbridge, one of the top teams in Washington, since the two teams did not get to meet in San Francisco.

Lincoln's only loss came 10-5 at Issaquah, Wash., in the Cardinals' season opener, and the Oregon team was without one of its top scorers, Pat Rogers.

Rogers and Peter Baum were named to the all-tournament team in San Francisco, and 'every one of my starting six is an offensive threat,' Harris says.

Aaron Prosser and lefty Danny Metcalf have been among the forces in midfield.

OES, meanwhile, has reloaded after losing nine players from last year's team, which lost 10-9 in overtime to Lakeridge for the state title.

Junior Andrew Parker has taken over at goalkeeper, taking over for Aleks Magi, a four-year starter. Forrest Brooks and Chris Chapman give the Aardvarks strong midfield play.