Nekekpemi, Perkins defend Metro League titles
For Beaverton junior Natalie Perkins and Aloha junior Alaere Nekekpemi the Metro League girls district track and field championship meet was sweet de ja vu.
Perkins — the two-time Metro 400 winner and 2016 Class 6A runner-up — pulled away from the pack and polished off her 400-meter three-peat on Friday at Cronin Field. And Nekekpemi again nudged past Jesuit's Lena Colson in the 100-meter dash for her second consecutive district crown.
Their title defenses in each respective event were continuances of their star-studded careers, another step closer to all-time Metro eminence.
For Southridge junior Skyler Blair, winning Metro meant gratifying atonement of the highest degree.
Blair — who held a slight lead in the 100-meter hurdles a year ago, but clipped the third-to-last barricade and fell to the Aloha High School track — attacked each hurdle with ferocity, instinct and passion en route to a first place finish in the low hurdles at Cronin Field on Friday. Later on in the evening, the junior backed up the vindicating victory with a first place finish in the 300 hurdles (44.23) to win not one but two district titles at Jesuit High School.
Swelled with emotion and teary-eyed galloping over the final two hurdles, knowing victory was within her grasp, Blair lunged across the tape to beat Jesuit senior Clair Corbitt and Westview senior Nicole Kiley with a 14.77 finish.
"I was almost crying," Blair said. "Last year was one of the craziest moments I've ever been through. It was so emotional and just so upsetting. Coming back and winning is just so humbling. All that hard work I've put into this sport is finally paying off with these times."
Blair set personal records in both races despite battling rainy, abnormally cold May weather under the Jesuit lights.
"That usually doesn't happen," Blair said. "I think it was just the adrenaline and finally meeting my potential. It's just so crazy, I can't even comprehend it."
Perkins, the uber-competitive junior who started this season with a loss to Sunset' Kelly Makin in the 400, hasn't taken second place since. The junior grabbed the lead with about 250 meters to go and stayed out ahead of Aloha junior Nyah Songster to clinch her third straight Metro crown with a 58.15 finish.
"I was hungry for that win, especially after winning the last two (district titles)," Perkins. "I wanted to keep that up. This year I just had more of an extra gear and a completely different mental state that I really, really wanted to win it. Coming in, I was pretty nervous because (Songster) is a great athlete, too. The competition this time of year is super great and that helps me push to be even better."
Perkins said her personal confidence has soared from being an anxious freshman to a sure-footed upperclassman who can run in any element and is "much tougher" both mentally and physically.
"I'm peaking at the perfect time of year right now," Perkins said. "I think it's training more than anything. We all joke around at Beaverton that we do better in the rain, anyways, for some reason. On our team, we get inspired by everyone else's efforts. Compared to other teams we just have a great family aspect. I think that helps everyone push to be their best."
Nekekpemi and Jesuit junior Lena Colson clashed in the 100 last year as well when the then-sophomore Warrior was able to win the district final in a photo finish.
Friday was much more of the same as the two speedsters were so neck-and-neck down the stretch that they nearly bumped into each other crossing the tape.
"I knew it wouldn't be easy, so I just wanted to stay loose, stay calm," Nekekpemi. "It was another tough finish this year. There were 10 meters left and I just wanted to get to that (finish) line."
Nekekpemi said she's been battling hamstring and hip flexor issues in addition to Iliotibial band syndrome, a common injury to the knee, often associated with running and lifting weights.
But a deep tissue massage with her physical therapist and some extra stretching the day before the 100 final helped the junior get loose and keep the title belt as Metro's fastest girl.
"It feels really good," Nekekpemi said. "I've had a rough season with injuries and it just feels good to peak at districts. I've been pushing through."
Beaverton Jahlett Tofi-Talalemotu won the shot put (39-07) while Beaver junior Julia Tantare won the discus (100-04). Aloha junior Shania Parker took top honors in the high jump by clearing 5-00.