LYNDEN - Seldom has a bear hug meant more between a Whatcom County track and field athlete and his coach.
Fans who waited until after 9 p.m. - more than four hours after the well-run meet began - saw such a joyful hug after Mount Baker senior Nathan Dunford took the overall state pole vault lead with a dramatic leap of 16 feet, 1 inch in the Class 1A Sub-District Meet on Friday, May 10, at Lynden Christian.
"I couldn't be prouder, I just couldn't be prouder!" said an emotional Baker assistant coach D.J. Brown. "He beat my personal best of 16 feet."
That, in fact, was exactly why Dunford asked for the bar to be placed at the unusual height of 16-1, after he had cleared 15-10 by several inches to match the overall state season best.
"It feels just awesome!" Dunford said, just a minute or so after his school record leap and what might have been a school record hug, too.
"I was a little nervous, but I was pretty sure I would get it," he said. "I've done it in practice over a bungee. I did 15-9 indoors (earlier this school year)."
Dunford, last year's Class 2A champion, earned a huge ovation from the fans who remained following a meet with several noteworthy local accomplishments.
On the boys' side, Blaine's Eddie Fontes ran a personal best 1 minute, 58.56 seconds in the 800 meters - beating his old best by about two seconds - to beat his close friend, fellow Blaine senior Tom Bradley, who ran 1:59.22.
Meridian sprinter Relijah McMillen took the 100 (11.30) and 200 (23.3) in season bests to go with his long jump title two days earlier.
The top five in each event clinched berths in the Tri-District Meet on Thursday, May 16, at King's. That means Mount Baker's Dillon Quintana will take two victories to Tri-District, having won the 3200 meters (9:40.01) to go with his 1600 victory two days earlier.
Meridian had another noteworthy mark when junior Kaleb Heezen won the discus with a personal best 170 feet, 10 inches, stamping him as a state medal contender.
Local girls earned their share of victories, too.
Meridian's sprint relay teams of Leyla Marino, Trinell Carpenter, Janessa Murphy and Taylor Lunde won the 4x100 and 4x200 in season bests of 50.62 and 1:47.70, respectively.
Lynden Christian's girls took the 4x400 with a team of twins Brianna and Brandy Bruneau, Emily Sytsma, and Madison Weg in a hand-held unofficial 4:08.1, shortly before Dunford made his prodigious vault in the twilight.
Sytsma took the 400 in 1:02.59 as the only other Whatcom County girl to win on the track.
In the field, Meridian's Marino made it four total wins when she took the long jump (16-6) to go with her triple jump win two days earlier. Blaine sophomore Oliva Adams matched her state Class 1A lead with an 11-0 leap in the pole vault.
Weg claimed the high jump at 5-0.
Fontes wanted to thank Bradley, whose leg problems this season now limit him to the 800, with being a great friend and leader.
"It's been a great honor to run with Tom for four years," Fontes said. "He's the one who got me started in all this. Tom is a great mentor, and he knows a lot more about running than I do. I think this is the second time I've beaten him. We have such a great friendly competition."
Bradley just grinned like the good sport he is.
"Actually, it's the third time you've beaten me, Eddie," he said with a smile.
Blaine vaulter Adams said her 11-foot leap was the second time she has cleared such a high mark for a sophomore girl.
"I need to work on my form a lot," Adams said. "They recruited me in eighth grade for the pole vault because I'm a wrestler."
Blaine pole vault coach Rob Ridnour - who raced over to Whatcom Community College to coach the Bellingham Slam after Adams' last vault - said he's proud of her efforts.
"I think she can go 11-6, maybe 12-0 this year," said Ridnour.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.