Cougar Runners Chomping at Heels of History with Near-Record-Breaking Performances

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After their three-team dual one week ago, the Canby track and field team returned to face the Tualatin Timberwolves — with history on their minds.

Though the meet would see the Timberwolves emerge victorious in many events, Canby’s star distance runner Tommy O’Neil came within moments of setting a new school record with his time in the league meet. Then, just two days later, first-year standout Kenzie Bigej punched her own way into the record books in the Canby Invitational.

Maddox Oliver (left) and Tommy O’Neil. Photos by Tyler Francke.

Before history was challenged, the 100-meter boys’ race took place, Canby’s Omar Villanueva and Cohen Hall placed first and third, with Villanueva posting a time of 11.5 seconds.

While Tualatin dominated most of the other track events, it was Tommy O’Neil who showed out for the Cougars. O’Neil — who has dominated virtually all races in which he’s participated so far this season — won the 800 meter in the most dramatic of fashions: beating back a furious late charge from Tualatin’s Caleb Lakeman — and clocking in with a personal-best time of 1:53.8.

When the dust settled, the senior — who this week announced he would continue his athletic career at Gonzaga University — owned the second-fastest 800 in Cougar history, a mere 0.4 seconds behind the school record set by Mark Corson all the way back in 1979.

Kenzie Bigej. Photos by Tyler Francke.

While O’Neil was coming within fractions of a second of making Cougar history, Tualatin was winning other events: 13 of 17 events, to be specific. Only O’Neil, Villanueva, Colin Kennedy, and the Canby 4×100 relay team (consisting of Cameron Lee, Treyson Wakefiled, Cohen Hall and Koby Kessler) were victorious.

Kennedy won his shot put events with a personal-best 43 feet, beating out the nearest Tualatin throw by four feet. Meanwhile, the Cougar relay team won with a time of 44 seconds.

In the girls’ events, the Timberwolves once again ran away with the majority of events, winning all but two. Cougar Lexi Paez was one of the victors in the 3,000 meter, setting a personal record with a time of 12:01.7.

Omar Villanueva. Photos by Tyler Francke.

Kenzie Bigej also PR’d in the 400, beating the nearest competition by a full two seconds with a time of 1:02.65 — and setting the stage for what would come two days later at the Canby Invitational.

With teams from Kelso to the Dalles in attendance, Bigej cruised past them all to win the 1,500 by nearly 30 seconds. Bigej’s time of 4:47.02 was leaps and bounds ahead of second-place Claire Rogge of Evergreen (Wash.) — and it also gave her ownership of the second-place slot in the Canby school record books, clocking in just three seconds back of the mark Isabelle Kacalek set in 2018.

Bigej’s victory was one bright spot in a tournament that largely followed the same script set at the meet two days prior. Once again, O’Neil dominated the 1,500 and 3,000, while Villanueva and the Canby relay team also took home W’s.

Koby Kessler. Photos by Tyler Francke.

The Cougs did have a little more success this time around, picking up additional wins with Easton Anderson in the 800 and Koby Kessler in the high jump.

For the girls, Bigej’s massive win was the only outright victory they would take on the day. RayAnne Schedler, Kali Kessler and Melia Stoddart all came close to winning their respective events, placing in the top three.

The Cougars will be back in action without O’Neil and just Bigej on Wednesday as the girls take on St. Mary’s. The groups will join back up for the Oregon Relays over the weekend. Wednesday’s girls-only meet is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Easton Anderson. Photos by Tyler Francke.

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