LANGLEY — As we get set to bid farewell to another season of B.C. high school sports, my mind can’t help but look forward to so many new plotlines, all enhanced by the happenings of an exciting 2016-17 season.
There is no better example than on the track with girls senior varsity, specifically within middle-distance trio of the 3,000 metres, the 1,500m and 1,500m steeplechase.
After witnessing the amazing performances of three athletes over two days in these three disciplines at the recently-completed Subway B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, you can’t help but think that we’re in something of a golden era for girls high school middle distance running.
To accurately set the scene, but in no way to take away from the amazing performances of the three athletes we’re going to examine further, it has to be noted that B.C. high school 3,000m record holder (9:33.44, 2015) Hannah Bennison of Vernon elected to skip the meet to attend her high school graduation ceremonies.
Nonetheless, even without the Providence College-bound, world-class cross-country star in the field, the top-end performances were simply outstanding.
With that said, let’s look at the running careers of graduating senior Desirae Ridenour (Duncan-Cowichan), and fellow Grade 11s Taryn O’Neill (Lake Country-George Elliot) and Grace Fetherstonhaugh (New Westminster) and how their showings at the provincial meet illustrate a depth and overall athletic excellence which will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign.
THE GRADE 12
For starters, the senior Ridenour beat back the field in 9:44.16, the third fastest 3,000m gold-medal time in the entire history of the event.
But when you consider that O’Neill, really coming into her own from a tactical standpoint as a racer, was second at 9:44.55, and that Fetherstonhaugh’s bronze-medal finish time of 9:51.03 was swifter than every first-place finish over the previous 28 finals with the exception of Bennison’s, you come to one very quick conclusion.
This was the most competitive senior girls 3,000-metre race in the history of the B.C. high school championship meet.
Interestingly enough, while its winner will continue her track career next season down in the provincial capital with the Victoria Vikes, Ridenour’s true future lies outside of the sport as a world-class Olympic-distance triathlete.
“(Running middle-distance) really helps with your endurance,” said Ridenour, who in the sport of triathlon is a member of the national development team and last season not only won the Canadian junior elite title, but finished sixth at the junior world championships in Mexico.
“I want to run track next year, but a lot of it will depend on my triathlon races,” she adds.
Ridenour’s increasing aerobic capacity over the past 12 months was certainly reflected in her 3,000m win.
She captured gold in the same race in 2016, but at 10:09.39 was 23 seconds slower.
Ridenour, who trains through the week in Duncan, then heads down to Triathlon Canada National Performance Centre in Victoria on the weekends, also took first in the meet’s 1,500m final for the second straight year, again topping both O’Neill and Fetherstonhaugh in a time 4:29.55.
Ridenour became the first to capture both the girls 1,500, and 3,000m in back-to-back seasons at the B.C. high school meet since Caroline Wallis of Vancouver’s Magee Secondary managed the feat a generation ago in 1978 and ’79.
THE GRADE 11s
While double-gold in the 1,500 and 3,000 are extremely rare, few will chase the proverbial carrot as hard as O’Neill will next season.
In Grade 10, she competed in the senior meet’s 800m and 1,500m.
This season, she took silver in both the 1,500m (4:30.09) where she led most of the way, and the 3,000 (9:44.55) where she changed up her strategy and looked for her finishing kick.
Ridenour, however, got the best of her both times.
“Desirae got me in the last 50 (metres) in both,” said O’Neill after wrapping up her meet schedule in the 3,000m. “I kind of learned from the 1,500m not to lead. I wanted to trail behind her in the (3,000m) and see how I would do in that situation and I thought I had her when I started my kick with 200m to go, but she got me in the last 50m. That’s OK. They were both almost PBs for me.”
Fetherstonhaugh kept the busiest schedule of the trio at the championships.
And from a personal point of view, she might have had the most successful weekend of the three.
Not only did the Hyacks’ Grade 11 set a new B.C. high school meet record in the 1,500m steeplechase (4:54.81), she finished third in both the 1,500m (4:32.80) and the 3,000m (9:51.03).
“I knew I wanted to go for the steeplechase record, but I had done a 15 and a 3 down in Oregon earlier this season and they went well, so I thought I might as well do those as well. I was thinking my legs would be dead, but they really felt good.”
So much so that her bronze-medal runs were both personal bests.
And thus the Hyacks have introduced their third exceptional girls track-and-field athlete in the past five seasons on the provincial scene.
And if you ask Fetherstonhaugh, sprinter Raquel Tjernagel (Texas) and multi-events standout Nina Schultz (Kansas State) have been a true inspiration in her career.
“It has been really cool to see what Raquel and Nina have done, and so great that they have come from the same school as me,” says Fetherstonhaugh. “You see and hear about their successes and it motivates you to do your best.”
That’s what we saw from a special trio two weekends ago. Add the likes of sprinter Jasneet Nijjar of Surrey’s Queen Elizabeth, and 800m and 1,500m standout Megan Roxby of West Vancouver, among other underclassmen, and the 2017-18 season is sure set the bar higher and higher.
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