In early March, Mercy I’aulualo wasn’t exactly thrilled about the upcoming track and field season.
But, the sophomore had a strong support system of friends, coaches and her sister, Rachel, urging her to give it a chance.
I’aulualo responded with personal records in the javelin, discus and shotput events with a combined six wins in those events.
She finished top-3 or better in six of nine meets and culminated with a personal-record toss of 37-feet-5-inches for second place at the Columbia River Conference District 5 Championships last week in Hermiston.
“Right now, I am feeling really happy that I made it,” I’aulualo said. “I am mostly excited to actually be going to state and showing them that they really can’t touch me anymore, because I know what I can do.”
In her two years in track, I’aulualo has had a few different coaches, including Neticia and Aleluia Fanene.
Through her first three meets, the sophomore averaged 33-feet on her shotput attempts.
In six meets since April 14, she has averaged 36-8 with two wins and two seconds to her record.
“Tecia and Louie have really had a big impact on me this year,” I’aulualo said. “They really showed me that it is all about giving it your best at every meet. They have pushed me to want to do good things and I am very happy to have them here.”
Although I’aulualo is making her first trip to state, she said the experience will help her build on her accomplishments over the next two campaigns.
In Eugene, she will stay dialed in and keep the crowd, the moment and everything else shut out.
“I am going to treat it just like any other meet,” I’aulualo said. “I am not doing it for them, I am doing for me. I have a set goal of getting 40 (feet) at least at state and I really think I can have a strong meet to get to podium.”
Kumm finally gets her shot
Through her high school track career, Kendyl Kumm has shown steady progress in multiple events.
She found her calling in the pole vault, where she placed third at districts last season, just missing out on a state bid.
“Getting close to making it to state last year really pushed me to work hard this year, so I could make it to state,” Kumm said. “, I focused more on pole vault instead of my other events, which helped me a lot. I worked with (head coach Garth) Miller and just tried to focus as much as I could to get really good at it, so it was really rewarding to finally get to state in my senior year.”
Over a three-week span in late April, Kumm hit for heights of 8-feet-6-inches in all three meets.
On May 2 in St. Helens, the senior set a personal-record height of 9-0 and secured a district championship eight days later with an 8-11.
She wants to eclipse 9-0 at state to end her athletic career in style.
This will be her last bus ride and extended time away from home, before moving on to Washington State University for her nursing degree.
Kumm is going to savor every moment in Eugene.
“Being a part of the dance team was a great experience and being here for track has been very important for me,” Kumm said. “Everyone has been great and very supportive. I will definitely miss them. I love being a part of the Riverhawks team.”
Alvarez wants to end on high note
It has been one banner season for The Dalles’ Samuel Alvarez.
Following a breakout cross country campaign, Alvarez racked up several personal records and top finishes and entered districts as the No. 1 seed in the 1,500 and the No. 2 seed in the 3,000.
On opening day Wednesday, Alvarez scored his first district crown with a time of nine minutes and 21.80 seconds to secure his 3,000-meter win
Right behind Alvarez in second place was Gabe Lira, who crossed the finish line in a personal-record 9:23.79 to get his state invite.
In Thursday’s run, he came out on top in the 1,500 with a mark of 4:17.61, just .57 seconds from his personal best.
“At districts, I was really nervous actually. My coaches kept telling me to stay calm and just do what I have been doing all season,” Alvarez said.
The sophomore had a simple approach to ward tackling the distance competition.
“It was so surreal,” Alvarez said. “When the gun went off, I just kind of blanked out and focused on whoever was in front of me and tried to see how fast they were going and just tried to stay close. As the race went on, I was able to find a good pace and took the lead in the last couple of laps and kept it going. It was such a great feeling to win both district races. I am happy to get this opportunity.”
In the past few years, the track numbers have grown, and the number of state participants has nearly doubled from last season.
Alvarez credits that surge to good coaches and athletes that are willing to dedicate themselves to the process of improving in every practice and event.
He hopes that athletes who missed out this year and those coming up through the ranks down the road aspire to make that trip to Eugene one day.
“It is great to have so many of us going to state. Only one or two of us are seniors, so it just goes to show that we are a young team that is ready and fired up and excited to run,” Alvarez said. “It is so amazing to see all the young kids come out too and I am ready for next year and for more to come. It is going to be exciting. Hopefully, we can push them to get better and get more motivated by seeing us doing these amazing things.”
Perez overcomes the odds
Cameron Perez and Justin Conklin scored runner-up finishes for state spots on the boys’ side, with Perez ending up with a season-best 154-2.50 to secure second place in the javelin.
Conklin set a personal record of 15.10 in the 110-meter hurdles for second place and he turned in a height of 6-1 in Wednesday’s high jump competition to qualify in two events.
Perez’s story is even more eye-opening in that he has competed in two meets this spring, the first on March 16, and then he sustained an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury to his right arm that kept him out of action for nearly two months, until being cleared on district week.
“The injury was breaking me down through the whole year,” Perez said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to get a chance to throw at districts. Once the doctor cleared me to throw, that was the most joy I’ve had in my life. Throwing at districts, I wasn’t sure if I would even get close to the top, but I just kept competing and finally got there, so I was happy.”
Perez is still relatively inexperienced in the sport, as he is finishing up his second season as a senior and will head to state in consecutive years.
He calls the entire situation luck.
Perez didn’t clinch second place until his final throw.
“It still hurts me. When I throw, it is extremely painful, so I just focus my attention on my technique, this way I don’t have to put so much force on every throw,” Perez said. “It has worked so far and that’s the way I am going to take it when I get to state. If I don’t have good throws early, then I will start using my arm, because it is my last year, so I might as well.”
Plenty of chances to win medals
On the girls’ side, Tressa Wood finished with a third-place run in the 3,000 (11:43.17), but earned a wild card spot, as she searches for podium honors.
Emma Mullins outhustled her 800-meter field with her final marker of 2:24.76, 1.12 ticks off her career-best to claim district supremacy.
Paulina Finn soared to second place in the high jump with a 5-2 to punch her state ticket and she helped the 4x400-meter relay team of Liz Tapia, Hanna Ziegenhagen, Mullins and Finn to a second-place outcome of 4:22.04, 5.06 behind their previous best.
In the 1A classification at Horizon Christian, Finn had some standout performances.
The transition to the 5A level has been challenging, but she is excited to get another crack at the competition at Historic Hayward Field this week.
“I am motivated. It has been something pushing me more,” Finn said. “At 1A, it was easy. You just did what you wanted, and you can win as long as you are athletic. At the 5A level, you actually have to work and work and work in order to compete to go to state. I am really happy that I have had the coaches who expect more of me, because I want more for myself. Now, I have that chance to do well against 5A athletes, so it is a great way to finish my career.”
Conklin, Perez, Mullins, Finn and few others already know what to expect at state and they will pass on whatever knowledge they have those first-timers who may get nervous on the big stage.
I’aulualo is going to treat it like any other race.
Alvarez will stay focused on his strategy.
Kumm is aiming for personal records.
Finn said that nothing should stand in the way of every Riverhawk athlete wanting to win some medals and a podium trip.
“It’s all about confidence. Confidence is key,” Finn said. “Even if you don’t think you can win, if you go in with confidence, you put all that pressure on everybody else. If you think that you can do it and you show that you can, it’ll give you that edge and will help get more out of yourself.”