O’Connor goes out as a track Titan

05/24/2017 09:07

By Jarrid Denney  | For The Register-Guard

GRESHAM — “How about that for a finish!” Lane track and field coach Grady O’Connor yelled.

He was referring to the comeback victory his men’s 4x400-meter relay team had just delivered, but he just as easily could have been talking about the fitting end to his coaching career.

O’Connor and the Titans captured their fifth consecutive Northwest Athletic Conference men’s team title at Mount Hood Community College on Tuesday with 252 points, 48 better than runner-up Spokane.

The meet was O’Connor’s last as Lane’s coach; he will be stepping down in June after 19 years in charge of the track and field and cross country programs.

“It was just great team chemistry,” O’Connor said following the meet. “These guys just really wanted it for each other and just believed in it. It’s the culmination of a hard-fought two days.

“It’s a little bit surreal, just processing it already.”

The Titan men ended the meet with six individual winners and won both relay events.

“We did it for coach Grady,” Lane jumper Tristan James said. “Not even talking about his coaching; just his personality and the type of guy he is. He’s a role model and father figure for so many of our athletes and such a great guy.”

James won the triple jump with a leap of 49 feet, 10 1/2 inches after taking home the long jump title Monday.

The Titans entered Tuesday with a sizeable lead over the Sasquatch. They compiled much of that with a sweep of the top four in the pole vault Monday, including a meet record of 17-4 1/2 by winner Justin Petz, who earned Field Athlete of the Meet honors.

Lane got right back to work Tuesday with a win in the 4x100-meter relay to open the meet and followed with 16 points split between four athletes in the 400, led by runner-up Cornelius Berry.

Former South Eugene standout Michael Martin led wire-to-wire in the 5,000 and outlasted Everett’s Douglass Davis to win in a time of 15:36.80. Lane sophomore Moises Martinez wasn’t ranked in the NWAC top eight in the 800 meters entering the day, but busted the form charts and kicked his way to victory in 1:58.05. That win came just an hour after he finished third in the 1,500.

O’Connor’s son Cade won the 400-meter hurdles early in the day, and later went on to erase a 10-meter deficit during his leg for Lane’s winning 4x400 crew. Cade, who also plays soccer for Lane, wasn’t planning to run track this year, and the NWAC Championships were just his second meet of the season.

“That was invaluable,” Grady O’Connor said. “I’m so blessed to have witnessed that and been a part of that. … He did this for me. He was just going to redshirt and focus on soccer, but once I made my announcement, he wanted to get on the track and told me he was going to do it. I’m just proud.”

Former Thurston standout Grant Shurtliff racked up 37 points in six events to finish as the meet’s high-point scorer for the second straight year.

The Lane women finished second to Spokane for the second year in a row. The Sasquatch won with 231 1/2 points and Lane finished with 186 1/2.

The Titans scored in every event, and Lane sophomore Emily Viuhkola delivered an unprecedented hat trick.

In the span of 62 minutes, Viuhkola racked up wins in the 400, 800 and 1,500 and is the first athlete to do so at the NWAC meet, Grady O’Connor said.

“My coaches and teammates and everybody were super supportive,” said Viuhkola, who will run collegiately at Fresno State next year. “They literally shook my legs out and tried to get as much lactic acid out of my legs as they could.”

After her three individual titles, she also anchored the Titans’ 4x400 team to victory. Viuhkola received the baton at the same time as Spokane anchor Harley Strope and went on to win the race by 20 meters.

“I had my whole team screaming for me on the last corner of that 4x4,” Viuhkola said. “We just have such a crazy dynamic; it’s like the greatest support system I could ever ask for.”