Lexi Ellis missed the state track and field championships last year, watching others compete in a sport she has thrived in ever since she stepped foot in Curtis High School.
But Thursday finally came, and when Ellis stepped up onto the runway of the triple jump, she raised her hands into the air and started a rhythmic clap.
Her best jump was marked at 41 feet, 8¼ inches – which broke the 23-year-old 4A state meet record — on the opening day of the state track and field championships at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
“Not to be there competing, I think it was more motivational than anything,” Ellis said. She had the top mark in the nation last year but scratched on all of her jumps at the 4A South Puget Sound League championships and didn’t qualify for the rest of the postseason.
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“I was like, ‘Next year, I’m going to be here. And I’m going to win.’ ”
Thursday was a day of redemption.
Start with an emotional Nolan Van Amen.
The South Kitsap senior was brought to tears by his second state shot put title. It came after he placed third last year and won the title as a sophomore.
It came because of a personal-best heave of 61-2¼. When he saw Skyview’s Connor Jensen threw 60-8¼ on his final throw, he crouched and soaked in the moment before sharing an emotional hug with his father.
“I can’t even explain this to you,” Van Amen said. “Just how grateful I am to be able to do this again. After two years, I finally did it. Today I came out and gave it my all and my all was enough.”
He’ll try to become the first in state history to win four consecutive 4A discus titles on Friday.
Then there was Rogers’ Omarei Gregory. He was bombarded by family members after he secured the 4A state triple jump title, leaping 47 feet.
He missed all of the past season because of WIAA transfer rules. He started his high school career at 1B Evergreen Lutheran, transferred to 1A Cascade Christian, and now is a 4A titleist with Rogers.
“It felt good to come out in my last year here and my first year, I got to come out on top,” Gregory said. “I am definitely going to keep working though. It’s not going to stop here.”
Sumner’s Rhaven Dean finally got her long-sought state title, taking the 4A javelin crown. She edged Tahoma’s Ginny Mehl with a throw of 138-5, a season-best for her.
Mehl finished second at 136-03.
Dean placed third in the 3A javelin championships last year, second as a sophomore and sixth as a freshman.
“Honestly, it’s so crazy,” Dean said. “I’m overwhelmed with happiness. It’s like this is what I’ve been working for. It’s everything I’ve been working for all four years.”
Dean stuck around because Bonney Lake’s Dreakeanna Adair was competing next to her in the 3A discus championships.
Adai secured back-to-back state titles with her throw of 133-4. Dean was the first to hug her, even though they are from rival schools in the Sumner School District – one wearing teal and the other purple.
“We are best friends,” Dean said. “More like sisters, actually.”
“We competed against each other for two years and then we became best friends last year. And honestly, nothing can break that bond.”
Black Hills’ Kyler Nygren rounded out the local state champions on Day 1, taking the 2A long jump title with a leap of 22-7¼ . He placed fifth last season.
South Sound athletes dominated the jumps. Ellis broke the 1994 4A meet record set by River Ridge’s LaShonda Christopher at 41-7½.
Her teammate, Curtis’ Saudia Heard, finished right behind Ellis in second place with a jump of 40-01.75. Tahoma’s Alisha "Miya" Wilson took third (38-9¾), Federal Way’s Josephine Akinlosotu was fourth (38-7¾), Emerald Ridge’s Audrey Fernandez was fifth (38-1¼) and Kentridge’s Kiarra Scott was sixth (37-1¼).
"You know I was proud," said a smiling Sarah Hannula, Curtis’ coach. She was also chasing Christopher’s state meet record in high school, when she won the state triple jump title in 2004 with Curtis.
"Lexi and Saudia both are incredible with their work ethic. You can always count on them in practice and are always invested in doing extra."
It was Ellis’ turn to win the title. She took second to Heard as a freshman two years ago.
"Our friendship is really close," Heard said. "Freshman year is when it all started, being new to Curtis and her showing me the ropes. We depend on each other and hype each other up before we jump. I love Lexi. She’s like a big sister."
"We have always been good friends. People have wanted to pit us as rivals because we went to the same school, we have the same marks. But we’ve always been good friends and we always will be.”
But the most dramatic race? That was the 3A boys 1,600.
Lincoln’s James Mwaura hadn’t lost in any of his previous four races this season – and led from start to finish in all.
It looked like that would be another start-to-finish first place for the 3A state cross country champion. But continuing the redemption theme, Mt. Spokane’s Hayden Dressel passed him on the final straightaway after Mwaura had led for three and a half laps.
Mwaura had beat Dressel for the state cross country title in the fall and with Thursday’s victory Dressel paid Mwaura back and thwarted his hopes for the distance running triple crown (a cross country, 1,600 and 3,200 title in the same school year.
"That felt so good," said Dressel, who finished in 4:15.94, just edging Edmonds-Woodway’s Matthew Park (4:15.99) and Mwaura (4:17.00) in what was the most thrilling race of the day. "I took the L in cross country and I didn’t want to do that again and I knew coming out there that James was going to be a factor."
But Dressel complimented Mwaura for running an "honest" race. Mwaura set the pace, not playing the tactical game of running with the pack.
"It was just a mental error," Mwaura said. "I took it out. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt like I wanted to run fast and make it an honest race. I just wanted to come out and just race and give it all I had today."
But he said he left a lot on the track.
Dressel also runs on Mt. Spokane’s 4x400 relay team. So once it came down to the final straightaway, he knew he had Mwaura – and it just became about holding off Park.
"On the 100 meter I told myself, ‘This is my race,’" Mwaura said. "I made a quick surge and they had a little bit more. I was hoping I had a little bit more. And then I was thinking, ‘Oh, no. It’s happening all over again.’"
Dressel zoomed past Mwaura in the final 100 in last year’s 1,600 title race, too.
"He runs honest. I have a ton of respect for him," Dressel said. "He just pushes the pace. He is not much of a tactical runner of sitting back in the pack and relying on a kick like I do sometimes. Knowing how he runs with guts, I knew that he was going to take it out, and that’s exactly what he did and that played into my hands. I’m on our 4x400 team, and so I have more footspeed."