By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

The spotlight seemingly always shines on the runners and jumpers.

It stands to reason. Those events are typically center stage at the track and field state championships, held within the confines of Hayward Field in Eugene. The athletes command attention from the crowds, and results are quick and often awe-striking.

Consider former Summit sprinter Kellie Schueler, who between 2007 and 2010 won 16 state titles during her illustrious career and who owns three Class 5A state meet records. Consider La Pine’s ­Justin Petz, who in 2016 became the first high school athlete to four-peat in the pole vault. There was Jacoby McNamara in 2016, who won the 5A 100-meter dash by 0.004 seconds and anchored the Redmond High 4x100 relay that rallied to win by 0.01 seconds before going on to set the 5A meet record in the 4x400 relay.

Dramatic and historic moments abound on the infield of Hayward Field.

This year, however, Central Oregon’s throwers are ready to shine.

“There’s some really good athletes out there,” says La Pine coach Gary Slater. “On the girls side, particularly, you saw it coming when they were in middle school. There was three or four of them that I remember. I remember Kayla Rambo and Cassidy Hughes and several of them as eighth-graders and thinking, ‘There’s going to be some strong girl throwers coming up through the ranks coming into high school.’”

Those girls are now primed to crash the podium at Hayward Field in ­Eugene this week as the Class 3A, 2A and 1A state meets kick off Thursday and as the 5A and 4A championships begin Friday.

Seven Central Oregon athletes could claim girls state titles in the throws, including three who are competing in all three throwing events. All have helped bring the throws to the forefront once again.

“Throwing’s not taking a back seat in Central Oregon anymore,” says longtime Summit coach Dave Turnbull. “It’s on equal par with the jumping events and with the sprinting events and the distance events. It’s now treated equally, and I think we’re seeing a rise in success because everyone’s looking at throwing events as a must-have for an athlete.”

Through the 2006 state meet, 13 Central Oregon throwers claimed state titles. Over the next five years, only two throwers won state championships, but since, nine athletes have placed first at the state meet in the discus, shot put and javelin.

This week, Central Oregon athletes are determined to add to that total — and perhaps make history in the process.

In 5A, Summit’s Haley Smith enters the discus as the favorite with a seeded measurement that is nearly 24 feet better than the No. 2 seed. She won that event last year with a 5A meet-record mark of 142 feet, 8 inches. Smith will also compete as the No. 3 seed in the javelin and the No. 5 seed in the shot put. Mountain View’s ­Cassidy Hughes, the 2015 discus champ, will also participate in all three throws: as the No. 3 seed in the shot, No. 4 seed in the discus and No. 7 seed in the javelin. Bend High’s Kayla Rambo is seeded third in the discus and enters the shot with the ninth-best measurement, and Ridgeview’s Rylee Troutman is seeded sixth in the javelin.

Crook County’s Kenna Woodward heads into the 4A shot put as the No. 3 seed and is ranked ninth in the discus. In 2A, Culver’s ­Catylynn Duff is seeded first in the discus by more than 25 feet (she won the event last year with a 2A meet record of 138-7) and is seeded third in the shot put.

Smith could threaten to make history at 5A, but it is in 3A where most eyes could be watching. Three times a state champion throughout her career, and three times a runner-up, La Pine’s ­Jordynn Slater came close to sweeping the throws last season. She placed first in both the shot and the javelin and was second in the discus. As the No. 1 seeds in the discus and the shot put and the No. 3 seed in the javelin, Slater is determined to join a short list with wins in all three events. Since 1966, the first year in which the OSAA kept track and field records for girls, only two athletes — Bandon’s Joy Moore in 1974 and Roseburg’s Tonia Roth in 1992 — have won all three throwing events.

The seven throwers have combined for five of the nine throwing state titles won by Central Oregon athletes since 2012. They have combined for five runners-up and a total of 23 top-five finishes. Not only that, they are also helping change the perception of the throws and demanding the spotlight that has long hung over the running and jumping events.

“The ones that are best in their events are the more athletic in their events,” says Turnbull. For example, Smith, Troutman, Woodward, Slater and Duff all played volleyball in the fall, and Rambo and Troutman played basketball during the winter.

“They’re athletes,” Turnbull continues, “and they come out and they’re better throwers because they’re better athletes. I think that perspective of what a thrower is has changed. … We have kids now that, from their freshman year, they look at those throwing events as something that they’re interested in and not just something you can do if you can’t do anything else.”

The power of throws certainly seems to stem from Central Oregon. Gary Slater recalls attending the Summit Invitational earlier this season, and featured in the discus were seven athletes who ranked in the top 10 of the event, regardless of classification — including five from local programs.

“As a throws coach, it’s definitely nice to see it, for sure, in general for our events,” the La Pine coach says. “It seems like runners always get most of the glory, so to speak.”

Perhaps that glory will begin to shift to the throws this week.

— Reporter: 541-383-0307,