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‘Miracles can happen.’ Nyssa’s 3A girls title — clinched on the final event of the meet — will live forever in OSAA state track lore

“We knew what times we had to get, what our splits had to be ... We went out, visualized it, and then we did it.”
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By Dan Brood 

The runners on the Nyssa girls 4x400-meter relay team knew exactly what they had to do.

They knew what place they had to get. They knew, at least approximately, what time they had to run. 

They also knew that if they did those things, they would have it all — they’d be state champions.

While some plans don’t work out, this one did — to perfection.

That perfection led to the Bulldogs celebrating the first girls track and field state championship in school history.

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Nyssa, with its second-place finish in the 4x400 relay, the final event of night, came from behind to win the gold at the Class 3A track and field state championships, held May 19-20 at Hayward Field in Eugene. 

“It’s a pretty big thing, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Nyssa junior Gracie Johnson said.

“It means pretty much everything,” said Kate Vineyard, the only senior on the relay team. “It will be my second state title for my senior year. We also got one in basketball. So, it’s kind of me going out with a bang, and it feels super awesome.”

That super-awesome feeling — for Vineyard, Johnson and their relay teammates, juniors Ella Daper and Asbel Tellez Jaquez — didn’t come without some planning, some strategy, a little luck, some nervousness and some anxious moments.

The first piece of the puzzle fell into place in the 300 low hurdles — the race before the 4x400. In that event, St. Mary’s (Medford) senior Mackenzie Walker finished in second place. That second-place finish gave St. Mary’s 70 team points, putting the Crusaders in first place in the team standings. Nyssa was in second place with 63.5 points, with just the relay remaining. 

St. Mary’s didn’t have a team in the relay, so everything fell on Nyssa.

“So, we had planned it all before,” Johnson said. “We were warming up, and we kind of planned it out. We were waiting to see what the girl (Walker) who was running the hurdles got, so we knew if we had to get first or second. So, we were planning on getting first or second, whatever we needed to do.”

With Walker taking second in the hurdles, Nyssa knew it had to finish first or second in the 4x400 relay to win the team championship.

Here’s where things get more interesting: In the timed finals for the 4x400, Nyssa was running in the first (considered to be the slower) of two heats.

“At districts, Asbel was hurt, so we had our alternate runner run for us,” Johnson said. “So (with their qualifying time), we ended up in the first group, so we said we just have to run faster and show we’re the best out there.”

“We were nervous, but we had talked it through,” Draper said. “We knew what times we had to get, what our splits had to be, what our time needed to be overall. We were, 'Just go run our race,' do the best that we could do. We went out, visualized it, and then we did it.”

They certainly did. 

Tellez Jaquez (running the leadoff leg), Draper, Vineyard and Johnson (running the anchor leg) won their heat in a season-best time of 4 minutes, 19.45 seconds. The 6-foot-5 Johnson, as she crossed the finish line, loudly yelled out, ‘Let’s go!’”

“I had thought it was good and we were going to get first or second, so I just yelled out, ‘Let’s go,’ because I was pretty excited,” Johnson said.

“That made it so fun,” Vineyard said. “I ran mine, and I felt great. Then, I was by them (Tellez Jaquez and Draper), and when Gracie came in we were all yelling super loud. And the enthusiasm of all of our friends and teammates cheering us on was super intense and super exciting.”

“I was just so excited, because I saw our time was under 4:20,” Draper said. “We were watching the clock, and so I knew we had a chance to get first or second with the second heat. People there were like, ‘Why are you cheering? You know she got first.’ We were like, ‘You don’t understand, there’s a second heat, and we have to beat them, too.’”

That’s right, after winning their heat, the Nyssa girls had to nervously watch the second heat — hoping two teams didn’t better their time.

“I was really nervous because after I saw Sutherlin, I was like, ‘Whoa, they’re pretty fast,’” Tellez Jaquez said. “I knew we either got second or third, but I didn’t say anything, because I know that miracles can happen. You also can’t celebrate too early, because no one knows.”

Sutherlin definitely was pretty fast, as it won the second heat in 4:15.50. Westside Christian finished in second place in the second heat with a mark of 4:19.96. That put Nyssa in second place by just over a half-second — with that tiny margin wrapping up the team title for the Bulldogs, who finished the meet with 71.5 team points.

“I know for me, I’m a senior, so this was the last time I was going to get to run with them on my team, so we all knew we wanted to be up there,” Vineyard said. “We knew we had to get better than a 4:20-something, so actually, this means a lot to us, getting a state title.”

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“It means a lot,” Tellez Jaquez said. “Many people from bigger schools think, ‘Oh, they’re a small school, they can’t do that. They’re not good.’ For us, coming from a small town, we’re working hard, and it just means a lot, because we’re proving ourselves to many people who think we’re not good enough.”

Johnson — who also was part of the Nyssa team that won the girls basketball state title in March, earning unanimous first-team all-tournament honors — finished third in the 200-meter dash, in 27.55, and the 400, with a mark of 1:01.52.

Tellez Jaquez sprinted to third place in the 100 in 13.24, and she cleared 4 feet, 10 inches, to take fourth place in the high jump. Tellez Jaquez, Draper and Vineyard also teamed with senior Mary Ausman to finish third in the 4x100 relay in 52.43.

Ausman was the runner-up in the discus with a throw of 115-5. She took seventh place in the shot put with a mark of 32-2.25. 

Nyssa freshman Julia Bowns had a second-place distance of 34-3 in the triple jump. Sophomore Ambrie Draper cleared 10-0 to finish second in the pole vault. Freshman teammate Brynlee Hartley was fifth in that event with a height of 8-6.

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