Catholic Sentinel photos by Ken Niezgoda
Chiara Chandlee sprints into the lead in the 200 meters in a meet at Reynolds High School.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ken Niezgoda
Chiara Chandlee sprints into the lead in the 200 meters in a meet at Reynolds High School.

They may be the defending state champions, but St. Mary's Academy's track team doesn't feel as though it has a target on its back this year.

Last season the Blues won their first-ever state track title, taking the title from two-time defending state champion Jesuit. It was the perfect meet, and no one's expecting it to happen again.

"Last year our state title was partly luck," said Blues coach Michael Bojorquez, explaining how a few mishaps and disqualifications by other teams gave the Blues the boost they needed to win state. "It's not just us doing our job, it's other people not doing theirs."

That might be a little gamesmanship by the coach, who admits he doesn't want to put pressure on this season's squad. The Blues lost a lot of talent from last season due to graduation. They return a lot of talent also.

"When we had our meeting earlier this year I said were still going to be strong. I think we can come home with a trophy, but I don't know which one," said the coach. "As long as we stay together and work hard, I think good things will happen."

Translate: The Blues may not be expecting a state title, but they still consider themselves contenders. The state meet will be held May 24-25 in Eugene.

Leading the way for St. Mary's Academy are a couple of juniors, Chiara Chandlee, one of state's top 400 meter runners, and Paige Rice, the defending state champion in the 1500 and 3000 meters. The 4x400 meter relay also may be in position to score points for the Blues.

Last year the state meet came down to the final race, the 4x400 meter relay. This season the Blues are one of only four teams to drop below four minutes. Chandlee and Rice are the backbone of this year's squad. Both ran on last season's state champion 4x400 meter team.

"Chiara is our ringer in the sprints," said Rice about her teammate. "We're really happy to have her on the 4x400."

The Blues' 4x400 relay placed fourth in the Jesuit Relays earlier this month, a meet which previewed many of the top teams in the state. St. Mary's Academy was only two seconds behind winner Central Catholic in that race. Jesuit took third.

The Blues strong contingent of distance runners give them options for the relay, including freshmen Lacey Conner and Kate Patterson, and senior Ellen Patterson.

All three finished in the top 25 at the state cross country meet. Ellen Patterson could also score points in the 1500 meters at state. Rice was the top 1500 meter Oregon finisher in the Jesuit Relays.

Last season Rice carried the scoring load for the team, accounting for 22.5 of the team's 50 points. This year other's may have to pick up more of the load as several distance competitors have stepped onto the scene to challenge Rice. The 2011 defending state cross country champion placed fifth this season despite improving her time by eight seconds over the year before.

"She's not afraid of the challenge. She's a tough kid. I don't have any doubts that she'll give it everything she's got," said Bojorquez. "Whatever happens, happens."
Rice sees this as a new year and a new challenge.

"We're going to have to work just as hard as we did last year to score any points," said the three-time state champion. "It's going to be a very strategic, very fast, very exciting state meet."