Michael Strnad has been a familiar sight at the state track and field championships for the past three years.
It’s hard to miss the Higley sprinter in any race he is in, as his long, flowing hair serves as a vapor trail. The hair has become Strnad’s calling card. But after Saturday, his calling card changed to state champion.
After two seasons of close calls, both individually, and as a team, Strnad claimed his own title, winning the 200 meters, as the Knights won the first boys state championship in school history, claiming the Division III championship at Mesa Community College.
“It’s a big weight lifted after taking second the last couple years,” Strnad said.
Higley scored a whopping 57 points in the sprint events (100, 200, 400 and 4x100 relay), and got enough scoring elsewhere to reach 74 points, good enough to beat Sedona Red Rock (67) and district rival Williams Field, which was third with 63 points.
“It’s super satisfying, it’s one of the best feeling,” Strnad said of the team championship after finishing second to Florence by one point a year ago. “This is the best way to end my senior year.”
Strnad burst on the track scene as a sophomore, when he and his signature locks finished second in the 100 and third in the 200 at the 4A-II state championships. Last year, Strnad finished third in both sprint events in Division III.
Strnad’s day started like the last two years, as he placed second in the 100, losing by .01 seconds to Snowflake’s Tyler Johnson (10.90 seconds to 10.91). Higley teammate Tristan DaCosta was third in that race at 11.04.
The senior’s wait for that elusive individual title ended in the 200, when he led a 1, 2, 4 finish for the Knights, winning in 22.12.
DaCosta was second in 22.40 and Cameron Wooden was fourth in 22.46. Saguaro’s Aaron Aubrey broke up the Knights’ sweep with a third-place time of 22.45.
“It’s really nice because we are all really good friends and we’ve done it all season and we all wanted to beat each other and go faster,” DaCosta, a junior, said. “One of our goals was to go 1, 2, 3. We went 1, 2, 4, but we’ll take it because we won state.”
DaCosta, Wooden and Strnad (along with Mythias Young) ran away with the 4x100 title (Higley’s second-straight in that event) with a time of 42.49.
Wooden, a senior who ran for Mesquite the last two years and was 8th in Division I a year ago, claimed a championship in the 400, winning in 49.26.
“I didn’t really know about anybody on this team, I just remember seeing Mikey with the long hair, that was it,” said Wooden of his move to Higley. “Then I found out that they lost state by one point, so that just made me more determined.
“It’s such a great feeling. We worked hard, and we did it.”
While the sprinters carried Higley to the title, it was the points from the rest of the squad the put the Knights over the top. Max Creamer scored eight precious points when he posted a third-place finish in the discus (160-feet, 4 inches) and a seventh place effort in the shot put (48-4). Brennan Barfuss added points in the 1,600 (8th place) and 3,200 (6th place), and D’Angelo Foster was seventh in the 110-high hurdles.
“It’s so nice, especially after that one-point loss when it came down to that 4x400 relay and we didn’t score a point,” Higley coach Cauley Clark said. “We had so many kids in the 200 that we thought about maybe spreading them out. But, it worked out.”
Williams Fields’ run at the team title was led by Derrius Kelly, who jumped his way to one state title and two other top-three finishes. Kelly jumped a personal-best 45-11 ½ to win the triple jump championship. He was second in the long jump (20-11) and third in the high jump (6-4) to give the Black Hawks 24 points.
Trevor Gibbons had a pair of top-three finishes, placing second in the discus (174-9) and third in the shot put (52-2 ¼). Quincy Stokes also had a good day, placing third in the 110-high hurdles at 15.34 and sixth in the 300 hurdles at 41.07.
Other East Valley individual placers
Williams Field – Devin Perkins, 5th in 110-high hurdles (15.72); Terrance Payne, 7th in 200 (22.99); Garrett Forsgren, 7th in pole vault (13-0).
Seton Catholic - Jacob Flores 3rd in pole vault (14-0).