By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

SALEM—Senior Paige Downer punched McNary’s first ticket to the state track meet on Tuesday, finishing second in the pole vault in day one of the Greater Valley Conference Track and Field Championships at West Salem High School.

“I’ve wanted to go there for so long,” said Downer of the state meet held each May at Hayward Field in Eugene. “Hearing of all the people that went there, it just made me so excited and I finally get to do that and it’s pretty cool.”

Downer entered the district meet tied with the best vault in the GVC this season at 10 feet, 6 inches with Mila Lumae of Forest Grove, and just ahead of the reigning district champion—West Salem senior Alyssa Premo at 10-3.

But Downer didn’t get off to a dazzling start, missing her first attempt at 9 feet.

“I was a little stressed,” Downer said. “I compare myself to the other competitors, which is bad. After the first attempt at nine, I missed that and both the people (Lumae and Premo) I was competing with cleared it the first time so I was a little stressed but I needed to calm myself down mentally and know that it was Ok, vault and do what I’ve been doing and take it step by step.”

After clearing 9 feet on her second attempt, the next steps included 9-6 and then 10-0.

With only three girls left in the event after McNary freshman Ashlin Samples went out at 9-6 to finish fourth, Downer cleared 10-3 on her first attempt while both Premo and Lumae missed.

That’s when the thought that Downer could go to state really set in.

“I was freaking out because I knew attempt wise they were beating me at the other heights,” Downer said. “Once I got 10-3 the first time and they both missed it, I can’t even explain what I was feeling. I was just so excited.”

While Premo cleared 10-3 on her second attempt, Lumae missed on her second and then her third, qualifying Downer for state.

An ecstatic Downer gave McNary vault coach Dustin Walker a high five and ran to hug teammate Brandi Grunberg.

“They were talking about how proud they are of me,” Downer said. “They are my best supporters. I’m so thankful for them.”

With the district title on the line, Downer cleared 10-6 on her third attempt. Premo finished at 10-9 to repeat as the champion.

“I wanted to prove that I can do that again (10-6) and that I can compete at state and I can compete with those girls and hopefully get on the podium,” said Downer, who has never been to Hayward Field, not even as a spectator. “I’m really excited going into it. Obviously, I’m nervous and kind of tense but honestly, I’m just happy to be there and I’ll do my best.”

The district runner-up finish comes after Downer took last track season off to play AAU basketball.

“That’s all on her as an athlete and her pure athleticism,” Walker said. “It is a technical sport and for her to take a year off and come back and just grab a pole and leave where she led off her sophomore year, it’s just a testament to how athletic she is and her drive as an athlete to work and improve.”

Downer is the first McNary pole vaulter to qualify for state since 2013 when Danielle Lovejoy and Jake Herndon competed in Eugene. At 10-6, Downer is tied for second with Lovejoy in the McNary record books.

“She’s such a great kid and she has such a great work ethic, not only on the track but in the weight room and at school and to be able to see her after she took her junior year off and come back out for track and have the success she had, it’s fun,” Walker said. “That’s what coaching is all about, is watching kids succeed and it’s fun to be part of that.”

McNary senior Haley Debban had cleared 9-6 earlier this season but wasn’t able to compete in the district meet after re-aggravating a knee injury during warmups.

Also competing Tuesday, Tim Kiser finished fourth in the discus with a throw of 132 feet and Isabella Walker placed fourth in the high jump at 4-10. Ella Repp took eighth in the 3000-meter run in 11:33.26.

Running in prelims, 11 athletes made it to finals in at least one event.

Leah Doutt qualified in both the girls 100 (fourth, 12.73) and 200 (fifth, 26.83). Lucas Garvey advanced in the boys 200 (eighth, 23:94) and 400 (sixth, 52.73). Noah Grunberg qualified in the 110 (seventh, 16:59) and 300 hurdles (seventh, 42.36). Casey Toavs advanced in the 300 hurdles (eighth, 42.64). Samples (seventh, 17.20) and Caitlyn Kiefiuk Yates (eighth, 17.23) qualified in the 110 hurdles while Walker (seventh, 49.76) and Hannah Mallery (sixth, 50.99).

Reyna Terrazas advanced to finals in the girls 400 dash, finishing eighth in prelims in 1:04.20. Brian Hernandez took seventh in the boys 200 in 23.94 to reach finals.

Kailey Doutt had the fastest time in prelims in the girls 800, finishing in 2:23.85.