Bolstered by four individual state championships, Liberty's girls finish second at the Class 5A track and field state meet

EUGENE — Liberty has hit its HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Liberty senior Sarah Martinez breaks into a smile as she crosses the finish line in first place Saturday in the girls 300-meter hurdles at the Class 5A track and field state championships at Hayward Field in Eugene.

The Falcons girls took the Class 5A track and field state championships by storm last Friday and Saturday, conjuring one standout performance after another at Hayward Field.

What they collectively produced was nothing short of historic: four state titles and a second-place team finish — the best in program history.

Summit breezed to its eighth consecutive title with 125 points, but the Falcons were better than everybody else, scoring 67 points to finish ahead of Corvallis (61) and Hermiston (46) in the team hardware race.

“To end this way, especially with a varsity team pretty much built with seniors, it’s just such a great way to go out, individually and as a team,” said Sarah Martinez, the 300-meter hurdles winner. “I couldn’t be happier.”

As Liberty head coach Perry Beeler noted, Eli Pecsok set the tone with her high jump victory Friday. Then on Saturday, Rachel Khaw prevailed in the 1,500, Pecsok added a shot put title, Martinez won, and the 4x400 relay finished second in a great duel down to the HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - The Liberty girls track team poses with its second-place trophy on Saturday at the Class 5A state meet.

Everybody, it seemed, wanted a taste of the success.

“The only surprise was that everybody rose to the occasion,” Beeler said. “That was the surprise. Everybody performed to their potential, and that’s huge. You very rarely get a meet where everybody performs to their potential.”

Pecsok kicked off the victory parade when she cleared 5 feet, 4 inches in the high jump, defeating Hermiston senior Mckenzie Byrd on misses. On Saturday, she took 10th place in the triple jump (33-2¾) but rebounded with a fourth-place result in the 100 hurdles (15.72) and a second championship, this one in the shot put (40-7½).

“I think I would have liked to do a little better in the hurdles and the triple jump, but winning two first places is good enough, I think,” Pecsok said with a bit of a giggle.

In the 1,500, a pack of about eight was bunched at the bell but started to string out when the pace ratcheted up. Going into the last 100 meters, that pack was down to just four runners, including Corvallis’ Justine Feist, Summit’s Kaely Gordon, and Cleveland’s Emma Wren, Friday’s champion in the 3,000.

And Khaw, of course, who “thought she might get fourth or something, maybe,” but instead unleashed a furious, devastating kick in the homestretch to nose past Feist with perhaps 30 meters to go. The sophomore covered the last lap in about 66 seconds and the last 200 in about 31 to finish in 4:41.81. Feist took second in 4:42.09.

“I don’t know how that happened,” said Khaw, also fourth in the 3,000 (10:23.46), about her kick.

After Martinez won the low hurdles in 44.61, even she seemed to have a hard time believing the result, as tearful expressions of joyful disbelief played across her face.

“I don’t even remember running the race because I was so focused,” Martinez said. “I remember getting over, I think, the last hurdle, and running, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, nobody’s (ahead) of me.’ I crossed it, and I was just like, ‘I just won. I can’t believe it.’”

Remarkably, this is Martinez’ first season running the low hurdles. She picked them up on the suggestion of Liberty hurdles coach Rourke Lowe — a former state champ at Aloha — who said Martinez should try them out when she was not doing so well at the high hurdles. She won her event debut and improved her personal record in nine of her last 10 outings.

The senior also took fourth place in the 400 (59.27), her second consecutive top-five finish in the event.

The Falcons almost picked up a fifth title in the meet-concluding 4x400 relay, where Martinez, Ashley Martin, Megan Rose and Khaw battled Summit step for step. But ultimately Storm anchor Sarah Reeves had a bit more than Khaw, putting her team in front at the tape, 4:01.26 to 4:01.63. Liberty lowered its school record for the third time this spring.

“We all knew that we had to step up and we could take it away,” said Rose, racing at state a year after breaking her leg during an 800, about Liberty’s meet mindset. “So we did.”

The 4x100 relay team of Bonnie Romeo, MacKenzie Beeler, Martinez and Martin also scored for Liberty, finishing fifth in 50.38.

Led by senior thrower Jon Horn, Liberty’s boys also fared well. All four Falcons competing contributed to the team’s 22 points, good for a tie for 14th. Marist won with 67 points.

Horn finished third in the javelin (174-4) and fifth in the shot put (48-1¾), improving upon his eighth-place result in the javelin two years ago.

“Not a lot of people get the opportunity to come to a place like this, and I was blessed with the opportunity ... to even get on the podium at all,” said Horn, who staged a remarkable comeback after taking a couple of weeks off midway through the season due to a pair of problematic knees.

On the track, Josh Cole (fourth, 400, 50.22) and Nick Bonat (sixth, 110 hurdles, 15.41) raced in event finals, and distance runner Michael Francy picked up two medals (sixth, 3,000, 9:01.28; eighth, 1,500, 4:07.16).

As for Beeler, he will undoubtedly hold the stellar weekend close to his heart for a long time. Even still, above the trophy his Falcons earned, he treasures something else even more.

“They’re good athletes, they’re quality athletes,” Beeler said about his kids. “But more importantly, they’re quality people. There’s not a more deserving bunch out there.”

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