Olivia Ribera won’t blame you for not noticing her last year.
The sprinter for the Tahoma High School girls track and field team finished last (16th) in the preliminaries 400-meter dash and 11th the 200 at the 4A state track and field championships.
But at state next week? It will be hard not to notice her.
Ribera finished in 24.69 seconds in the 200 in the 4A West Central District meet on Saturday at French Field in Kent. It beat her already state-best time she set at the 4A South Puget Sound League championships last week.
“I can’t believe it. It feels like I’m in a dream,” Ribera said.
She helped the Tahoma girls track and field team take first place, beating second-place Curtis 90.5-73. Tahoma also won on the boys side, edging South Kitsap 84-81.
Two-time defending state boys and girls champion Federal Way placed third in the boys (61) and fourth in the girls (63) behind third-place Bellarmine Prep (68).
A few things have made all the difference for Ribera: She has a new sprint coach (former Decatur sprints coach Aaron Blake), isn’t a freshman anymore and is over a leg injury that hampered her for most of last season.
Blake compared Ribera, who also qualified for state in the 100 on Thursday, to another sprinter he used to coach – former Decatur and Washington State University standout Princess Joy Griffey. Griffey still holds the all-time state sophomore record in the 200 and the state sophomore and junior records in the 100.
“I think strength has been big for me,” Ribera said. “And (Blake) has really improved my form.
“I’m really happy. This year has just been great. I’m looking forward to next week.”
Mariah Vongsaveng was finally able to finish standing.
Federal Way’s three-time state hurdles champion won her heat of the 300 hurdles with a time of 44.83 seconds despite running with a strained quadriceps muscle in her left leg. She gingerly hopped over the final few hurdles before easing into the finish.
Emerald Ridge freshman Karlee Stueckle took first in her heat and beat Vongsaveng’s time with a personal-record 43.68. That’s the fourth-fastest time in the state.
Federal Way girls track and field coach Quinn Gillis had to carry Vongsaveng to the trainer’s room underneath the grandstands when she finished Thursday’s 100 hurdles race.
“I think I almost hurt my coach’s back last time,” Vongsaveng said. “I did this one for him.”
It’s hard to believe Vongsaveng would have qualified for state had the district meet not adopted a new format. The district did away with preliminary races this year. Every event was a final.
That meant instead of Vongsaveng also needing to get through the preliminary races of the 100- and 300-meter hurdles on her strained quad – which Gillis originally thought would prevent her from even finishing –she just needed to place in the top six in a pair of finals events.
Gig Harbor’s Tristan Peloquin, after scratching in the 1,600 on Thursday, took first in the 3,2200 in 9:22.42, edging teammate Ryan Gregory (9:32.49) and Bellarmine Prep’s Jack Yearian (9:32.80). It was just the fifth time Peloquin, who took sixth in the state meet last year, has been able to run the race in a meet after missing the first-half of the season recovering from mononucleosis. … South Kitsap’s Mason Villarma set a personal-best in the 800 and took first place in 1:53.44. … The top six from each event over the two-day district track and field meet advance to state, which runs Thursday-Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677