For Mountlake Terrace Hawk senior Michael Liddell, competing at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships for the two seasons has been a great experience, but this year he wants to take along some friends.
“Going to state two years in a row for an individual event is not as fun as going as a team,” Liddell said. “Last year I was the only member of the boys’ team to make it. I would prefer to have a whole team.”
Liddell and the Terrace boys and girls track and field teams begin their 2016 season on Thursday, March 17, with a home meet against Meadowdale. Liddell and his teammates hope their season ends with a team trip to the state championship meet in late May.
Liddell’s road to back-to-back appearances at the state championships began while he was a seventh grader at Brier Terrace Middle School when his mother allowed him to join the school’s track and field team.
“I got in trouble when I was a little kid (and) my mom said I couldn’t try out for basketball,” Liddell recalled. “But she said that if I keep my grades good she’d let me do track and field.”
Liddell brought home the grades necessary to make mom happy, giving him the chance to jump into track. Then, while continuing with the long jump each spring, Liddell was given the okay to play basketball at BTMS in eighth grade; he then made the freshman team at Terrace the following year.
After Liddell failed to make the Terrace junior varsity basketball squad as a sophomore, he decided to turn all his attention to the long jump.
“Coach (Russ) Vincent said I could be good at this,” Liddell explained. “I was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to take his advice and actually try to go hard at this because I am a competitive person — I never like to lose’.”
“When all of this started clicking, that’s when I started to fall in love with it,” he added.
Liddell’s hard work and devotion to the long jump paid off. As a sophomore in 2014, he finished 12th in the 3A boys state long jump event. Last year he placed fifth with his best leap ever of 21-05.75.
This season Liddell has his sights set on reaching 24 feet, winning a state long jump title, and helping qualify his 4×100 meter relay for the state meet. The sprint relay team is expected to include seniors Joey May, Cole Anderson and Andre Johnson, and could be formidable if they stay away from injuries, something that plagued Johnson last season.
“(Andre’s) season was cut short last year due to bad hamstrings,” Liddell noted. “But he’s been rehabbing and getting ready.”
While the Terrace boys track and field squad will rely on Liddell in the long jump and their sprinters to earn team points and a hoped-for team spot in the state meet, the girls team is almost certain to grab their fifth-straight team trip to state this year.
The Terrace girls return a number of athletes from last year’s squad that finished fourth in state last season, most prominently six-time 3A state champion Chinne Okoronkwo. The senior won three titles last year as a junior: the 3A girls’ triple jump, long jump and pole vault. Okoronkwo also captured the triple jump and long jump titles in 2014 and won her first state championship when she grabbed the triple jump title as a freshman in 2013.
Okoronkwo proved she is at the top of her game this past weekend when she won the New Balance Nationals Indoor girls triple jump title in New York with a mark of 42-11.75, the best leap of her career and the best ever set by a Washington state high school female athlete.
The Hawks also returns a strong group of sprinters, mid-length runners and long distance runners to the girls track squad this year. Junior Jessica Ong, a 6th place finisher in the 3A State Girls 800 meters last year, leads a strong contingent that includes Katherine Walter, Katherine Gustafson, Tiana Pennington-Obispo, Sophia Nelson, Tayler McCulloch, Julia Hart and Isabel Kembel.
Most of the Hawks will be in action for the first meet of the year on Thursday at Edmonds Stadium. Okoronkwo will skip the dual meet against Meadowdale to rest up after her competition last weekend in New York, but is expected to be ready for the March 24 meet against the Kamiak Knights.
To view the entire MTHS boys track and field schedule, click https://www.wescoathletics.com/index.php?league=3&page_name=game_schedule&school=40&sport=7. The MTHS girls track and field schedule can been seen here https://www.wescoathletics.com/index.php?league=3&page_name=game_schedule&school=40&sport=16.
–Story and photos by Doug Petrowski