Lane follows Hightower’s lead, soars to title sweep

05/21/2014 09:29

By Howie Stalwick

For The Register-Guard

SPOKANE — Dakarai Hightower is the junior college track and field equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel.

The Lane Titans high jumper, an NCAA Division-I star disguised in a junior college uniform, soared 7 feet, 3 1/4 inches — a height that put him among the top-10 collegians at any level this year — to help the Titans sweep the team titles at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Championships.

The Titans dominated the final day of the meet Tuesday, beating out longtime nemesis Spokane to win both team titles for the second straight year. It was Hightower’s performance, however, that left everyone buzzing at Spokane Falls Community College Stadium.

Hightower jumped 9 inches higher than his nearest rival in setting conference, meet, stadium, school and personal records. He’s tied for eighth in the nation this year and just a 1/2-inch away from reaching the top 5.

“I just try not to screw him up,” joked Grady O’Connor, the Lane men’s and women’s head coach and high jumps coach. “He came to us very sound technically. We’ve worked on his strength.”

A beaming Hightower said, “Once I missed my first one (attempt at 7-3 1/4) — I was right there — I said, ‘Today is the day.’ I hadn’t PR’d in two years.”

Hightower missed on three attempts at 7-5; the national JC record is 7-8. Oregon is one of several schools that have shown preliminary interest in Hightower, who hopes to be invited to the Prefontaine Classic on May 30-31 at Oregon’s Hayward Field.

Hightower, who cleared 7-3 to win the 2012 Junior Olympics, was the lone champion Tuesday for the freshmen-laden Lane men’s team. Sean McGetrick failed to repeat as the 110-meter hurdles champ, but he set a school record of 14.37 seconds while coming in second.

The Titans women, loaded with sophomores, won nine of 13 finals Tuesday. Lane won all seven events on the track from 800 meters down, plus the 4x400 relay.

“That’s just unheard of,” O’Connor gushed.

Jahzelle Ambus won the 100 and 200 and ran on both relay teams. The 400 relay time of 3:53.81 is a school record.

Ambus said she was confident she could win the 200, but she was wary of 100 rival Jordan Searle from Clackamas.

“(She) had the fastest time this season (12.06) … there was definitely doubt in my mind,” Ambus said.

Lane’s Kara Hallock won the 100 hurdles after finishing second in all five of her individual events last year, then repeating as the heptathlon runner-up last month.

“One of the best female athletes at Lane ever,” O’Connor declared.

Lane’s other Tuesday winners were Sheldon alum Kristin Clark in the triple jump, Macaulay Wilson in the 800 and Jalen Tims in the 400 hurdles. An estimated 300 spectators turned out Tuesday.

Hightower was named the meet’s outstanding male field events athlete.

The women’s award went to McKenzie Warren, who won three throwing events for Mount Hood.

Spokane sophomore Jessica Mildes landed the outstanding female track performer award. Within 27 1/2 hours, the Gonzaga-bound distance runner won all four of her events: the 10,000, 3,000 steeplechase, 1,500 and 5,000. Mildes set the national JC 10,000 record of 34:29.36 earlier this year.

Mildes won the high scorer award for women. Sharing that award for the men were sprinter-hurdler Aric Walden of Spokane and Anteneh Woticha, who won three running events for Clark.

O’Connor repeated as men’s coach of the year. Spokane’s Jason Cash was tabbed the top women’s coach.

The Titans, who display volumes of team spirit during meets, must replace volumes of spirit and talent next year on the women’s side in particular.

O’Connor said six women are headed to Division I schools: Hallock and Wilson to Oregon State; thrower Madison Seaman to Wyoming; thrower Leah Wilson to Boise State; pole vaulter Janelle Noga to South Dakota State; and pole vaulter Anna Jensen to Sacramento State.

“It’s unheard of to have that many D-1 athletes,” O’Connor said.

Clark and Tims have yet to pick schools. Ambus will run for Division II Seattle Pacific. South Dakota State landed male pole vaulter Erik Jorgensen.

“Once I missed my first one (attempt at 7-3 1/4) — I was right there — I said, ‘Today is the day.’ I hadn’t PR’d in two years.”

Dakarai Hightower

Lane High jumper