WALLA WALLA - The weather was anything but perfect at Martin Field Thursday afternoon, but a constant drizzle and a strong wind didn't dampen the mood at the Walla Walla Invite.
The invite included Oregon 5A schools Hermiston and Pendleton, Washington 4A host Wa-Hi, Washington 2B schools Waitsburg-Prescott and Walla Walla Valley Academy, and Washington 1A Columbia-Burbank.
Because it was the opening event for many of the schools, and because the invite included teams from varied classifications, team scores were not kept.
Wa-Hi defended its home rubber and turf well in its second meet of the year (the Wa-Hi boys took first at the Sweeney Invitational last Saturday, and the girls second). Thursday, the Blue Devils secured 18 top-three finishes for the boys and 20 for the girls.
"The weather wasn't perfect - it wasn't conducive to great or fast times - but these are the days when you are able to judge character, desire and ‘want to,'" Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said in an e-mail. "Today, the team really did a nice job of focusing on the task at hand, eliminating distraction from the elements and competed very well."
Had scores been kept, Hermiston would likely have won the girls side with 19 placers, including eight first places, and taken second on the boys side, placing 16 athletes in the top three.
Highlights on the Blue Devil boys side included a personal record for J.P. Wolpert in the 800-meter dash and the Blue Devils taking the top three spots in the 1,600-meter run.
Despite facing a driving wind and the slick track, Wolpert beat his personal best from last season (2:02) by almost a full two seconds (2:00.34).
"It was pretty windy today, so I think I could break two (minutes) if there wasn't any wind," Wolpert said. "I feel good, the season is going good."
"J.P. Wolpert's 800-meter race was easily the performance of the meet," Hisaw said. "To run two-minutes flat in those conditions was excellent. He's a real leader and competitor.
"That's as good a March distance race as I've ever seen run by anyone from this program in 15 years," he said. "Just outstanding."
Despite beating the runner-up, Hermiston's Alejandro Cisneros, by just shy of five seconds, Wolpert said he was naturally stronger in the 1,600-meter race and was running the 800 to increase his speed.
"I'm definitely trying to work on my speed because I'm not that fast at sprinting, but I've got more endurance," Wolpert said. "That's why I'm doing these 800s in the early season, to get the speed down."
Wolpert will run the 1,600 Saturday at the Richland Jamboree, which begins at noon, and said he wants to break the school record of 4:15 in the event.
Waitsburg-Prescott's Seth Deal took an early lead in the 1,600, but was unable to break away from a pack of Wa-Hi runners and ended up placing sixth. The Blue Devils used teamwork and drafting to slice through the wind and take four-of-five top spots in the event, with J.P. Wolpert's younger brother, Ben Wolpert, ending up in front for Wa-Hi.
"When Greg (Heller, who finished second at 4:42.01) surged I didn't really know what to do, I didn't think I could beat him," the younger Wolpert said. "So I just tried to stay with him and in the last 200 (meters) I had so much left, I just gave it every thing I had and it was enough.
"I probably should have pushed it (the pace) more earlier, but I guess since I didn't it gave me the lead in the end," Ben Wolpert said.
Ben Wolpert, a sophomore, ran cross country last season, but this is his first season in track and was his first time running the 1,600 competitively.
Sean Hollenbeck completed the Blue Devil trio with 4:43.64 mile time, good for third.
Sean Newcomb placed fifth with a 4:44.96.
"I really thought our meet turned from being a ‘good' meet to a great meet during the boys' 1,600-meter race," Hisaw said. "To see five of our guys up front challenging for the lead and then to see us 1-2-3 at one point and to finish 1-2-4 (sic) was just cool. The track events, from that point on, became much more intense and competitive."
Logan Reardon won the javelin for Wa-Hi with a 147-foot, 5-inch toss and finished second in the shot put for Wa-Hi, setting a personal shot put record at 45-5. He also placed fifth in the discus with a 118-6 throw.
"I thought that I did really good with my shot put throw," Reardon said. "I PR'd by 20 inches. It was really good to get past that 45(-foot) mark."
Although he won the javelin, Reardon fell about 20 feet shy of his personal record. He only took a five-step throw, compared to a full running start, to focus on his technique.
Richard Jimenez took third in the shot put for Wa-Hi and Blue Devil Zach Gilvey took third in the javelin.
Blue Devils Blake Gerling and Jonah Hoe finished first and second, respectively, in the 400-meter dash and finished in that order, but in third and fourth, for the 200 dash.
Wa-Hi dominated the pole vault, with Peter Sirmon, Garret Kenny and Parker Toon finishing 1-2-3, respectively. Sirmon lept 11 feet, outleaping Kenny by six inches (at 10-6).
Darnell placed third in the triple jump with a 36-6 effort.
Sirmon also won the long jump, traveling 18-9.75 before returning to terra firma.
The Wa-Hi girls also rolled to 1-2 finish in the 1,600-meter race, and, with the exception of Hermiston's Maggie Coleman, who finished in third, took the top seven spots.
Blue Devil junior Rachel Nelson won the event with a time of 5:44.06. Sophomore Hannah Hampson finished second at 5:45.2.
"I thought our girls 1,600-meter kids battled well today," Hisaw said. "Four gals at six minutes or less in these conditions today was pretty solid. They are a fun group of gals and they feed off of each other. They love to compete and they hate to lose."
Having a large pack of Blue Devils to start the race helped the Blue Devil girls deal with the poor weather conditions.
"It was really good for our team to learn how to pack run," Nelson said. "It really taught our girls to stay together during that first part and take it easy."
Wa-Hi's Dominique Cox and Maggie Callan, both juniors, had strong finishes in the short-distance sprints. Cox took the 100-meter sprint with a time of 13.79, with Callan finishing at 13.81 for second place.
Callan also took second in the 200 dash, with a 28.55-seconds run, while Cox finished third in 28.83.
Ashley Corina won the 400-meter sprint in 1:05.1 for Wa-Hi. Brittany Gibbar finished in third with a 1:06.36 run.
Jami Klicker won the 300-meter hurdles in 53.30 and took third in the 100-meter race in 18.34.
"I was also very impressed with Jami Klicker's 300-meter hurdle race," Hisaw said. "She just decided that she was going to be tougher than the Hermiston gal (Emily Potts, who finished second in 53.83 seconds), and made herself win. That's being a great competitor.
"I also was extremely happy with the performances from Hannah Moeller, Kassidy Willard, Brittany Gibbar and Ashley Cornia," Hisaw said. "Those four had very good days in their respective events, but it was how well they competed that made me proud of them."
Cornia also placed third in the long jump with a leap of 15-6.5.
Wa-Hi's Sarah Jameson tied for second with a 6-foot pole vault; Madeline Jacobson sailed to third with a 108-8 javelin throw; Megan Thompson finished tossed a discus 89-7 for a second place finish, while Katarina Tondavong took third in that event with an 85-7 throw; and Wa-Hi's Hannah Burns took third in the shot put with a 30-6 effort.
Although Waitsburg-Prescott faced a size disadvantage against the larger schools in attendance, it represented itself well with eight top-three finishes for the boys and three for the girls. W-P's performance was highlighted by winning performances from senior Eshom Estes and junior James Thompkins.
"It's the first meet of the season, the weather was sketchy at best, and I thought our kids came out and performed well," W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said. "You've got to get that first mark and first time to see where you are. It's kind of nice to know, like any sport, where you stand."
Thompkins won the 100-meter dash, finishing in 12.01, finished second to Pendleton's Jacob Rickman in the 200 with a 23.97-second run (Rickman finished in 23.79), anchored the 4x100-meter relay to a 46.26 victory and, finally, anchored the 4x400-relay team to a second-place finish in 3:47.61.
In the 4x400, Thompkins helped prevent a 1-2-3 finish by Hermiston. When he took the baton from W-P's D.J. Leroue, he found himself about 30 meters behind a Hermiston duo.
"I was just trying to stay relaxed, and trying to stay focused and not burn out," Thompkins breathlessly said at the end of the race. "At the last 200 (meters), I figured this was my last race (of the day) and I might as well just burn out.
"I was just thinking the entire time, if we can stay with them (the runners from Hermiston), we can win," Thompkins said. "We were a little close to them, and so I kept thinking we can catch up to them, we can catch up to them."
But Hermiston's winning 4x400-relay team had half a lap on W-P before Thompkins took the baton, and didn't slow down, cruising to a 3:38.13 finish - more than 9 seconds faster than W-P.
"I would love to say that we won all our events, but we couldn't catch up," Thompkins said.
Thompkins finished fifth in state in the 200 dash and helped anchor W-P's 4x1 relay team to a third-place finish at state last season.
Estes had a banner day. He captured first in the shot put with a throw of 48-10.5 - three feet ahead of Wa-Hi's Logan Reardon, who set a personal record with a 45-5 toss. He also took third in the discus with a 130-4 toss and fourth in the javelin with a 134-04 throw.
"Eshom, for the 2B level, that's a (shot put) throw he can improve on and it's going to do well at the 2B (state) level," Bartlow said. "That's going to get you in the top three to four at state; it's a great start. He was second at state (in the shot put) last year, so he's hungry."
Billy Brown, who finished 14th at state in the 110-meter hurdle last season for W-P, missed an opportunity for a first-place finish when he took second in that event Thursday after starting the race standing up.
"I'm not trying to think I'm all that, but I think I would have won if I used blocks because people had such a good start, and (it seemed like) I was like maybe 5-to-10 seconds after them," Brown, who finished in 16.94 seconds said. "I didn't feel like I practiced enough (with blocks) so I wasn't ready for them.
"I would have beat that kid (Pendleton's Kevin Robinson, who finished in 16.3 seconds) so bad if I had blocks," Brown said.
The blocks incident miffed Bartlow, who didn't know Brown hadn't started without blocks until after the race.
"I did not know he started standing up," Bartlow said. "He looked good once he got going, but yeah, that won't happen again. The idea that he started standing up just is a huge disadvantage."
Brown used blocks when he led off for W-P's 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
He also tied for third in the high jump with a 5-foot-6 leap.
Waitsburg-Prescott brought only 13 girls to the Walla Walla Invite, and ended the day with three top-three finishes for the girls.
Kristin Potter competed in four events - the 100, 200, 400 and the long jump. She finished third in the 100 and second in the 400.
"(Potter had) real competitive, real good times, and (they were) comparable to what we thought she was going to do, so I was really proud of her." Bartlow said.
W-P's Ronnie Hulce took third in the high jump with a 4-8 bound.
Waitsburg-Prescott next competes at a District 9 meet in Clarkston Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Walla Walla Valley Academy brought two athletes to the invite (Ryan Hepker and Hannah Ehlers), but neither finished in the top ten of the events they competed in.