Lake Oswego track coach Eric Lider was ready to celebrate like a champion by the end of last week's district meet.
Never mind the fact that both of Lider's teams - the boys and girls track squads - could only muster a middle-of-the-pack finish in the two-day meet. For Lider, that was like winning it all, especially for the boys team, which failed to win a dual meet during the regular season.
While both Laker teams lacked the depth to be serious contenders for the league dual meet crowns, each had enough top-tier talent to make people take notice at the district meet, which was held at West Linn High School.
Leading the way for the Laker boys was sophomore Elijah Greer, who won the 800 and 1,500-meter runs. His 800 time of 1:54.26 gave him the best mark in Oregon heading into this week's state meet. However, after considerable deliberation, he was pulled from that race so he could concentrate on the 1,500.
The Laker girls were paced by freshman Tate Murray, who qualified for state when she placed second in the 1,500 behind Clackamas' legendary Claire Michel. Everyone was hoping for a similar finish from Murray in the 800. But she wound up third in that race, which was where she was ranked coming into the meet.
Also qualifying for state was James Ratliff with his second place in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. That was redemption for Ratliff, who was also expected to qualify in the 100 hurdles. But he wound up third in that race when the competitor next to him fell and appeared to throw off Ratliff's stride.
Plus, Riley Werner qualified for state when he finished second behind Greer in the 1,500. He just missed doing the same thing in the 800.
The Lakers' relay teams, meanwhile, were nothing short of superb. The girls 400 team (which included JoJo Faris, Jacqui Wallis, Mady Johnson and Kate Mogentale) qualified for state with a surprising second-place finish. Then, in the meet's grand finale, the girls' 4x400 team finished a respectable third while the boys team beat out a favored Putnam squad for first place.
That capped two solid days for Lider's troops and the coach could not have been any more pleased.
'I'm not a screamer, but I was screaming during that long relay,' Lider said after the meet ended.
'I don't know where those girls were seeded, but they had a way-outside lane. And to get third in district is awesome … And the guys - that was exciting,' Lider said.
Indeed it was. The boys won the 4x400 despite being exhausted by the time the race rolled around. Three of their runners had already competed in two other races that day. The relay included Greer's anchor leg in which he beat Putnam's Ricky Garcia, who earlier in the evening won the 400 title.
'Elijah has a few gears and he's very competitive,' Lider said.
It makes one think that Greer could have won the 400-meter race as well. But he was already on the verge of spreading himself too thin after winning the 800, the 1,500 and running the final leg on the winning long relay team.
Greer was ranked No. 1 in the state in the 800 and 1,500 for a large portion of the season and it was easy to see why. He used the perfect strategy in each race and then he let his talent take care of the rest.
In the 1,500, Greer was a third of the way back in the pack when he decided to make his break for the front.
'I was in fourth or fifth place for the first 1,000 meters, and then with about 500 to go, I put it in gear,' Greer said.
His winning 1,500 time of 4:09.29 was slightly slower than Greer had expected, so it allowed him to conserve a little bit of energy for the 800, he said. And he won the 800 with a blazing time.
'I think (1:54) is leading the state right now,' he said. 'So, maybe I could even be the state champion this year.'
At least that was what Greer was thinking on Friday, but on Monday he was pulled from the 800 to lift some of the burden he would have faced at state.
'It was too much to run prelims (in three races),' Lider said. 'Next year, if he's sitting in that position, we might make a different decision. We felt that this was going to give him a better shot in the 1,500 (which is considered his best event).'
The star of the show for the girls team, meanwhile, was Murray, who entered the 1,500 with a better seeding time than Michel. The strategy was to have Murray stay within two strides of Michel for the first three laps and then use her kick to win the race down the stretch.
Both runners started their finishing kick at about the same time, but Michel used her experience in big races to open just enough of a gap to keep Murray at bay. Michel finished with a time of 4:48.27 while Murray was clocked at 4:52.04, which was nine seconds slower than her PR.
'I guess we ran a really slow race (but) I felt like I PR'd,' Murray said after the race.
If you're going to lose a distance you just as well lose to Michel, who has been nearly impossible to beat during her four years at Clackamas.
'Claire Michel is awesome,' Murray said. 'She's really sweet and she deserves it, so I'm just as happy for her as I am for me. And I'm just really excited I'm going to state as a freshman.'
Murray was surprised she was so dominant almost from the beginning of her first year in high school, but Lider could see she was budding star.
Early in the year, 'my coach was saying, 'I think you can run a 4:50 (in the 1,500) this year.' And I was like, 'Are you kidding me!?
'But my second race was a 4:52 and I just kept surprising myself,' she said.
Overall, 'we got everything we expected when we doped it out,' Lider said after the meet. 'Well, except for James (Ratliff) not going in the highs.
'But I'm excited. We had a lot people make the finals that we weren't expecting … So, I'm really pleased with what happened.'