By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It took 41 years, but it finally happened. Officially.
For a school that opened in 1979, five years after the first Girls State race took place in 1974, McKay finally has sent a girls’ Cross Country team to State.
They technically made it in 2004, the freshman year of two of their coaches in Janelle Everetts and Megan Everetts, but a rule about piercings disqualified the team from advancing to the State Race the following week as a team.
The Everett sisters, twins, made it to State as individuals during their time at McKay. Megan went to the big race four times and Janelle three times. And for Megan, seeing her alma mater and the squad she’s been helping coaching under Head Coach Jason Zellick since 2013, make histr15 years after the fact is a special moment for the 2008-graduate.
“It’s super rewarding because our freshman year was Fall of 2004 when we qualified, so it’s been what? 15 years? And to be involved with McKay as much as we were in 2013 when we started coaching, like actually coaching…I feel like McKay’s been apart of my whole life,” said Megan Zellick.
“To have that let-down when I was a freshman and to see that they thought they didn’t make it and see them have that let-down too, it broke my heart. And then when we realized they did make it, they were so excited. They worked so hard for it.”
The third-place finish to even qualify out of the District race to the State race wasn’t easy. Kaydence Nguyen. was a question mark 15 minutes before the race as she’s been healing up from an injury, sitting out the Creekside Classic race ten days before ultimately deciding to run in the District race Saturday.
“I decided to do it because I thought if I didn’t do it, there was no chance we’ll make it to State and if I did it, we had a better possibility making it to State,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen finished 39th in the race, the Scots fifth-racer to cross the finish line. McKay saw Jazmine Liebl (11th), Sydney Haines (15th), Ximena Nava (18th) and Tess Barnett (24th) finish ahead of her with Skylar Stangelan (45th) and Stephanie Urenda (48th) finishing behind her in the District Race at Bush Park Saturday morning.
But as McKay Head Coach Jason Zellick was tallying up the numbers, keeping an unofficial record on him from the race, his fears were there that the girls didn’t make it. According to his calculations, they were three points out of third-place, he prepared the girl for the worse.
“It was crazy,” said Zellick. “We were all kind of like…we didn’t understand how initially we didn’t think we made it based on how everybody ran and (Megan), she was watching and she didn’t see anything coming from any other schools.
“When we looked to look at the official results and we got the results from (McNary’ Athletic Director Scott) Gragg and (South Salem AD Andy) Armstrong, the AD’s for McNary and South, respectively. That jubilation.”
A quick synopsis of the situation, Megan Everetts observed that South Salem and West Salem weren’t celebrating. The Saxons normally celebrate when they make it to State, so Zellick decided to go up to the table to double check his math.
McKay, in reality, finished seven points ahead of South in the standings with 107 to the Saxons 114 for third. The Scots were going to State.
Realizing history was made, Zellick sprinted back to McKay’s tent to break the history making news.
Nava was heading home when she got the call to get back to Bush Park asap, she knew something special happened as she bolted back and jumped on Cross Country assistant coach and Track and Field Head Coach Curt Everetts when she found out.
“I was heading home, I was a little bit disappointed and then I received a call from (Curt) Everetts and he told me to drop my things and just go back. He didn’t tell me what it was about on the call, but I could tell based on his tone that something was going on,” starts Nava.
“I dropped my things and I sprinted to the tent. I ran as fast as I could. When I got there…I got there as soon as he began to tell them and I saw everyone jumped up and started yelling and being really happy. So I ran to them and I ran to coach Everetts and he had has arms open for me and so I jumped on him and we all started celebrating.”
Zellick got Girls Coach of the Year as they achieved their season goal of getting to the State Race.
And here’s the kicker, there’s not one Senior on this squad, so this year is laying the foundation to maybe an even stronger season next year for the McKay girls team.
“We’re probably going to have the same exact girls as this year. It just gives us a little insight for next year because we’re going to come back even stronger now knowing what we’re capable of with much bigger goals,” said Nava.
“I know what they’re capable of. They know what their capable of , but considering they’ve never been there as a team like this, it’s going to be a good experience. They know the course, they’ve been on that course before so that’s not new,” adds Zellick entering this years State Race. “They’re going to go out and they’re going to do their thing and that’s going to give us that much more experience hopefully to come back next year and doing it again.