Panthers are the best in the gorge

Washougal track athletes rise to the occasion at Al McKee Invitational

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Wet and chilly weather in the Columbia River Gorge couldn’t cool off the Washougal track and field teams Saturday.

“Everyone stepped up and fought through the hail, rain and the wind. I even thought I saw some snow,” said senior sprinter Austin Tofell. “We competed hard.”

The Panther girls racked up 130 points to beat 10 other schools in the Al McKee Invitational, at Stevenson High School. The boys scored 125.5 points to make it a sweep for Washougal.

“The conditions were tough on all the athletes, but our athletes really rose to the occasion,” said head coach Dave Hajek. “Some of our kids came up with some big [personal records] on a bad day.”

Kaitlyn Johnson earned the Female Athlete of the Meet award. She snatched first place in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, with times of 13.54 seconds in the 100 and 28 seconds in the 200. Johnson also won the triple jump, with a leap of 31 feet, 5.5 inches. Rae Ann Allen, Paige Roberts, Kari and Kaitlyn Johnson finished in first place in the 800 relay, with a time of 1:58.6.

“I remember going to that meet for the first time when I was 5 to watch my older sister jump. My mom also competed there too, so there was a lot of family history there,” Kaitlyn Johnson said. “The team wins are more important to me. I’m just glad I got to play my part. I enjoy seeing [my teammates] happy.”

Joe Harris earned first place in the 110 hurdles (15.85). He also took second in the triple jump (39-10), third in the discus (108-2) and fourth in the high jump (5-6). Tofell, Gubser, Donald Holbert Jr. and Adam Thomas snagged first place in the 400 relay (47.14).

After playing football together, Gubser convinced Tofell to give track and field a try this spring.

“It’s challenging, and it pushes you to a whole different level,” Tofell said. “It’s all on you. The amount of work you put into this determines how much you can achieve.”

Thomas soared to first place in the pole vault (12 feet). Tofell finished second in the javelin (143-7) and Caleb Economides followed in third (140-10). Brian Connolly clinched third on the high jump (5-8). Economides earned third in the 300 hurdles (45.19). Gubser grabbed third in the 100 (12.01) and the 200 (24.42).

“Any time you can hit a PR, you feel like the hard work is paying off,” Gubser said. “You just want to keep improving throughout the season and see how far you can go.”

Michelle Greear claimed second in the shot put (31-11) and fourth in the discus (83-2). Mackenzie Pfeifer placed second in the javelin (105-9) and Sydney Neimi followed in third (94-1). Morgan Rodgers took third in the discus (84-7). Kari Johnson leaped to third in the long jump (14-6.5) and finished fourth in the 300 hurdles (54.89).

“Winning an invite gets everybody motivated and happy. It’s a good confidence booster for us before we start league,” Kari Johnson said. “I really hope we can get the league championship again. It would be really impressive for Washougal to be able to win that five years in a row.”

Karina Miller earned third in the 1,600 (5:53.55) and fourth in the 800 (2:44.13). Meredith Collins clinched third in the 3,200 (13:44.15). Polly Pace placed fourth in the 400 (1:15.40) and the high jump (4-2). Erin Locke earned fourth in the pole vault (7 feet). Allen, Locke, Christina Murray and Pace finished fourth in the 400 relay (58.66).

Washougal hosts R.A. Long for the first league meet of the season. Events begin at 3:30 p.m., at Fishback Stadium.

“I would love it if the boys and girls can become league champions again,” Gubser said. “That would be a great way to end our senior year.”

“I have been going to these meets for as long as I can remember,” Kari Johnson said. “My grandparents, parents and siblings all went here, and now I’m competing for the school. It’s definitely fulfilled my dreams.”

The Panthers enter the Kalama Invitational Friday. Events start at 4 p.m.

Washougal senior Sean Eustis raced against 44 other competitors in the 3,200 at the Pasco Invitational Saturday. He finished in fourth place with a time of 9:26.27.