LANGLOIS — During last year’s state track meet, few people saw Pacific coming.
The Pirates weren’t even mentioned in the team race until the middle of the running finals on Friday night.
Then Justin Hall won the high hurdles, Josh Engdahl won the 800, Hall and Engdahl finished first and fourth in the 300 hurdles and Hall placed second in the triple jump.
When the two standouts helped Pacific take fourth in the meet-closing 4x400 relay, the Pirates had completed a surge from afterthought to Class 1A state champions, winning the title by three points over rival Powers.
The Pirates even surprised themselves.
“I had no idea we were even in it until the 300 hurdles,” Hall said. “It was crazy because it was totally unexpected.”
About the only people who weren’t surprised were Pacific coaches Ben Stallard and Bob Lemerande, and they didn’t mention it to the athletes because they didn’t want to apply any external pressure.
“I didn’t say anything until right before the 4x4,” Stallard said.
By then, the runners knew if they were fourth or better, they would take the title, and Hall, Engdahl, Noah Figueroa and John Morrill-Keeler did just that.
“I just remember … we were all quiet (after the race),” Engdahl said. “We were all stunned.”
The coaches were far from stunned, but no less excited.
“Lemerande and I were pretty euphoric,” Stallard recalled. “We have been second a couple of times. To get over that hump is awesome.”
Stallard also coached Pacific’s basketball team, with the same cast of characters, to the state basketball title this winter, but the track crown was the first in recent memory for the school.
Pacific won’t be sneaking up on anybody this week when the state meet kicks off Thursday at Hayward Field.
With Hall and Engdahl leading the way again, the Pirates are favored in the team race, with North Clackamas Christian and Cove the top contenders.
Engdahl and Hall will be pulling extra duty again, each in four individual events (no relay this time), along with Jack Lehnherr, who was part of the Powers team that just lost to the Pirates last year before transferring to Pacific for his senior year.
Hall and Engdahl each love to do four events, and Stallard never had second thoughts about loading them up again.
“We try to score as many points as we can,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to score as many points as we can without killing Josh off.”
This year, Engdahl is in three new events and he and Hall are doubling up in two events.
Engdahl is among the favorites in the 400 and also is running the 200. He and Hall both are in the 300 hurdles — Engdahl has a faster time this year — and in the long jump. Hall, meanwhile, will also be defending his title in the high hurdles and again competing in the triple jump.
Lehnherr has a chance to add significant points as well, joining the other two in the 300 hurdles and Hall in the triple jump while also competing in the 800 and joining another Pacific teammate, Jack Walker, in the high jump.
Morrill-Keeler gave Pacific a few valuable points in the javelin last year and has qualified in that event again.
But it’s Hall and Engdahl who lead the way, during meets and especially during practice.
“You can’t work them as a coach,” Stallard said. “You can give them a workout. You can’t work them.
“These kids know what it’s like to know what they can accomplish. It’s way more common to have the athletic talent and squander it.”
Hall was at least partly driven by a desire to better the hurdles times run by his dad, Jesse, when he competed for Pacific, something he finally did in the high hurdles last year (he still hasn’t matched his dad in the longer race).
“I wanted to be like my dad and do hurdles,” he said. “Ever since sixth grade, I’ve been doing them.
“Last year, I just got stronger. It clicked in my head — the harder I work during the regular season, the better I am at the end of the year.”
He got some added incentive when Engdahl tried the hurdles as well.
“I just wanted to beat Justin,” he said, before looking at his teammate and saying, “It might be the reason you got faster.”
Hall didn’t disagree.
“I thought, ‘Shoot, I have to get faster,’” he said.
Engdahl’s success has come from his work ethic and one other key factor.
“Josh hates to lose,” Stallard said.
If Hall and Engdahl mostly avoid that this week, they might be celebrating a third state title in 12 months Friday night.