Jason Palmer walked around French Field sporting a sweatshirt that read “Mr. 400” — or, as he referred to it, a target on his back.
The Federal Way junior, ranked No. 1 in the state in the 400 meters at 49.93 seconds and the 200 meters at 22.36 seconds, is one of last year’s state contenders expected to lead the Eagles in the chase for a third consecutive Class 4A track and field title.
“You can’t get too comfortable,” Palmer said. “It keeps us on our toes and helps us make sure we’re always trying our best.”
Palmer had no need to be skittish Saturday as the Eagles rang up 108.5 points and cruised to victory in a field of 18 at the Kent-Meridian Invitational.
Palmer, who was named athlete of the meet in track events, led the Eagles with three first-place finishes — as an individual in the 400 meters, and as part of the 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams. Senior Jared Pulu, named athlete of the meet in field events, added a first-place finish in the shot put, while senior Chico McClatcher took first in the long jump.
The win was a solid rebound for the Eagles, who experienced an early wake-up call Thursday. Tahoma beat the Eagles by four points, resulting in their first dual meet loss in eight years.
“It’s just something this team is going to have to learn to deal with,” coach Chris Williams said. “Last year’s team was very good at saying, ‘Oh, there’s pressure? Well, jump on my back and I’ll carry you there.’ This year’s group is probably more talented, has the potential to score more points, but we haven’t seen what happens when they get knocked down, either.”
Federal Way lost some depth this season with the graduation of Keenan Curran, who competed in four events at last year’s state meet, and Mitch Stewart, who competed in three. Williams said it’s not a rebuilding year, but more of a balancing act.
“We’re inexperienced for as good as we are,” he said. “A lot of the guys only did one event last year, so they’re having to carry more of the load.”
Williams’ solution is to move his top athletes around to try to find the right chemistry to carry the Eagles into the postseason. McClatcher has added the 100 meters to his repertoire and Pulu has focused on the discus, while junior Alex Taylor has developed as one of the team’s top sprinters — he placed first in the 100 meters Saturday at 11.21 seconds.
“The purpose is to just see what people’s strengths are,” Palmer said. “It’s cool to see who fits in best where, and who can try where.”
The girls team completed Saturday’s sweep for Federal Way, edging Kent-Meridan, 79-78. The 400-meter relay team placed first at 50.70 seconds, while senior Mariyah Vongsaveng took first in the 100-meter hurdles. Senior Jonarra Swanson and freshman Jelisa Turner added first-place finishes in the triple jump and 100 meters, respectively.