In 2019, the North Salem Lady Vikings shattered all of the narratives, all of the doubt, and all of the labels that dogged their school. For the first time since 1997, North Salem High School was able to lay claim to a state championship. Not only did they win the state championship, they absolutely torched their 5A competition, putting up 119 points in a 51 point rout over the second place team. With five individual state champions and many other placements, the Lady Vikings solidified themselves in school and state history on a magical day at Mt. Hood Community College. With their encore season delayed, the Lady Vikings Hailey Lewetag, Abi Swain, Elizabeth Hernandez, and Maliyah Jade all talk with Elite Oregon Girls about that magical season, and other topics as they await the start of the 2020 season….
The Beginning Of The Magic
Last year was an extremely special season, but lets start from the beginning. Going into last season, what were the expectations y’all had going into the season? Did y’all ever discuss the idea of winning a state championship?
Maliyah Jade: “Going into the season last year we knew what our ultimate goal was in the end. We were chasing after that state title from day one. We knew what events our athletes were hoping to compete in at the state meet, and we spent an endless amount of time on athletic.net looking at all the times and marks around the state to see where our team would fit in. We discovered in the early season that we had athletes that were good in all 17 events. Not just district level good, but state qualifying good. As long as we could pull off what we needed to at the district meet, we would be set for the state meet. We didn’t make too many adjustments because the team was doing such a great job at putting our names out there already, so we didn’t want to change anything and ruin the streak we already had going on.”
Hailey Lewetag: “Our coaches had a lot of early discussions with the team about having the potential to compete for the state championship. So from the very beginning of our season that was our team goal. Coach Berger told us that if this was really what we wanted, then we would need to work harder than we ever had before. He also said that the hard work had to start during the off season. As a group, the varsity girls decided that we wanted to start working in late November / early December. This was the earliest we’ve ever started our training for a season.”
Abi Swain: “At the beginning of the season we had talked about how we had a chance at winning the championship. And I remember at the beginning our expectations were to put in the work during the off season so that we could put ourselves in the best position to win. For us distance girls, we took a week off after the XC season and then went right into training for the track season.”
Learning With The Grind
Once competition begins, a team really finds their groove and finds out what they are made of. What did this team discover in the early going of the season?
Elizabeth Hernandez: “One thing that we discovered was that we had ladies with multiple talents in multiple groups of the team. This was extremely motivating because we work hard for each other, and competing against each other really helped us grow as a team and as athletes. Our team bonding was also very good, and we were a family. We really tried hard to improve our personal records and avoid getting hurt as it could affect the team.”Abi Belen: “I think one of the most exciting things that developed very quickly was the team culture that we had. We were so supportive of everyone’s successes and it was such an amazing environment to be a part of. It didn’t matter whether it was a league meet or a big invitational, everyone of our athletes were either competing or cheering for another athlete. That encouragement allowed for us to be an even more unified team. And in track, which is usually a more individualized sport, it was amazing to contribute and be a part of the positive team environment.”
Abi Swain: “I think one of the most exciting things that developed very quickly was the team culture that we had. We were so supportive of everyone’s successes and it was such an amazing environment to be a part of. It didn’t matter whether it was a league meet or a big invitational, everyone of our athletes were either competing or cheering for another athlete. That encouragement allowed for us to be an even more unified team. And in track which is usually a more individualized sport it was amazing to contribute and be a part of the positive team environment.”
Hailey Lewetag: “We had some large goals and a bunch of elite athletes on the team last year. This obviously created some big expectations for the team heading into the year. From the very first meet we hit the ground running (no pun intended). Of course they were challenges and setbacks along the way, but we just looked at those as “learning moments” that helped us refine the process. Our coaches set small goals for each meet beginning from the very start of the season. They would often talk about the next challenge or how competitive this next meet or team would be. They kept us sharp and on our toes, always hungry to accomplish the next challenge.”
Leading The Calvalry
Every team has their leaders, the ones who take charge and bring leadership to the team. For this team, who are the leaders of this team and what leadership qualities do they possess that make them so strong in those roles?
Hailey Lewetag: “We had a lot of amazing leaders on our team last year, which was so great for us because they all kept us focused on our goals. We started to develop an expectation as a team, we didn’t just want to win the state title we wanted to win while also believing in ourselves, our team and our dream. With so many great athletes and leaders on the team its hard to name them all. On the girls side each event group had several standouts, for distances Abi Swain and Emma Haburn, for throws Kiara Ballard and Gabby Rodrigues, for Jumps Rebekah Miller and Mackenzie Durrant, and for sprints Maliyah Thompson and Dana Romero. Each of these captains came together and brought so much to our team.”
Elizabeth Hernandez: “The leaders of this team are Maliyah Thompson and Nerrisa Thompson for sprints, and I see myself as a leader sometimes but, when I’m confused and I need help, I rely on those two. Rebecca Miller was also a good leader, and I really enjoyed watching all these ladies run. We really didn’t have one, but instead multiple girls leading and helping each other improve every day. Some of the roles they carried were not only the fact they were students of the sport, but they also helped outside of track problems and with school. They always made sure the team was doing good and made sure we were having fun just like the coaches were. They really created a family feel to the team, which is really nice, and I knew I could always go to them if I needed technique work or help with even schoolwork.”
Abi Swain: “The cool thing about our team was the amount of leadership that we had on our team. Leaders of our team were Kiara Ballard, Dana Romero, Emma Haburn, Gabby Rodriguez, Maliya Thompson, Hailey Lewetag, Eimy Martinez, Eli Hernandez, and Marta Janzi. These are all girls who all lead by example, hard work, and positivity. Most were elected to be captains by the team.”
The Moment You Become A Champion
During the state championships, this team finished with five state champions and several top three finishes. For the individual champions, how does it feel to be a state champion? When did it soak in for you? As for the team perspective, what were the initial feelings when y’all found out you won the state championship?
Abi Swain: “Absolute elation. I remember the excitement building up throughout the meet and then heading our team being called up was a moment that I’ll never forget. All the hard work that we had all done for months had lead to that moment. And I remember looking around at all of my teammates around me and feeling this incredible pride and love for the group of girls that had become my family.”
Hailey Lewetag: “Being an individual state champion didn’t soak in until the next day for me. I woke up the next morning with the biggest smile on my face thinking “wow I actually did that”. It had been a goal of mine for so long and it just felt surreal to have accomplished it. My coaches and family have been a group source of motivation and have pushed me in the best ways possible. As a team, when we found out we had won the state championships it was so exciting. We were all jumping up and down hugging each other, some people laughing some crying. It’s a memory I’ll never forget, forever having those moments with my team. Then in the midst of all the celebrating we were told to do our victory lap. It was pouring down rain and we were all soaked but it didn’t matter. Running around the track for the final time that year with my teammates was magical. Our team last year wasn’t just a team, we were family. Which made accomplishing that goal so much more exciting and special. We wanted to make history and we did. Not just by winning the state championships, but also by being the first team ever in any classification to score in all 17 events at state.”
Elizabeth Hernandez: “Winning state gives me a feeling of all the work I put in is finally paying off. For example, I started working in Early December and it felt very good seeing that all of the work was paying off. One of the goals for our 4X4 team was beating Silverton, they had very good runners and going into the meet we were about four seconds slower. What really soaked in for us was not only just standing on the podium and having the medals placed around our necks, but praying while Hailey was running anchor, and praying that we would win that race. We ran fast and we ran for each other, that’s how we ended up winning. When we first heard we had won state, we were all very proud and happy. There were tears in the stands, and like I said, the feeling that work we had put in early on was paying off. We were honestly in shock we had won with over 100 points, and it felt really good knowing we did this for our school, our coaches, and our teammates.”
Maliyah Jade: “Being able to win an individual state title was awesome. Going into the state meet, I was not ranked 1st in the 100m hurdles, which gave me some relief because the pressure was not on me, but it gave me that little bit of extra motivation to work that much harder to place where I wanted to place. After crossing that finish line knowing I had just won the state title in my favorite event was such an unexplainable feeling. I knew I worked so hard all season for that, along with getting a PR, so it was amazing. My 4×1 team also won the state title for the 2nd year in a row, and that was something that meant so much to all of us. We were graduating two of the ladies on that team after that season, so we wanted to give it one last go, and put on a show for everyone one last time. But something even better than all of that was our team winning the state title. Our whole team had this idea of us chasing that team state title all season, and it was the most special moment for our school.”
The Encore Performance
Knowing that you are a state champion, the expectations become sky high for this program. How are y’all preparing yourselves for the a run at a state championship repeat? Are there any personal goals you have?
Elizabeth Hernandez: “One expectation I have right now is to become healthy. I don’t only run track and field, but I also play club soccer and I sprained my ankle about a month ago, so right now focused on becoming healthy for the season. We still want to work hard now to get the results later, and we’re all working and running hard. There are no days where we don’t want to workout, instead we want to be out practicing and giving it our best because that is what prepares us for our meets. Some personal goals I have are to not only repeat the team state title and the 4X4 team title, but also to win the 400 meters and fill the shoes of the seniors who left last year from the gold medal 4X1 team. I also want to stay healthy for the entire season, since I’ve had an injury in each of my previous seasons.”
Maliyah Jade: “This season is my last high school season and we’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on speed this year. We lost many of the athletes that contributed to last years state title, but we still have such a strong, hardworking team and we’re excited to see what we can do at the state meet this year. I have set a few personal goals for this season. I want to break my schools record for the 100m hurdles. As of now, I have the sophomore and junior record, and with my mark from last season, I am only .05 seconds off the senior/overall school record. I also want to try and defend my title in the hurdles and in the 4×1 as well, along with trying to win the 100m.”
Hailey Lewetag: “Coming into this season there are a lot of expectations for the North Salem track team. As a team we want to repeat as Champions, and just like last season we started putting in the hard work early in the off season, as we continue to keep each other motivated through the hard base training. As a senior, I want to make the most of my final season at North and try to make each practice and meet memorable. One of my main goals for this season is to get as many points possible for my team at districts and state. Whatever events make the most sense for me to compete in and that gives our team the best chance for winning the state title. Personally, I would love the opportunity to repeat as the 4x400m & 800m state champion again this year at State, but I’m open to running what benefits my team most.”
Advice For The Future Track Girls
Finally, what kind of advice would you give to little girls who dream of running track and achieving the status of a champion?
Abi Swain: “I would tell them that every day is important in achieving whatever goal they’re hoping to achieve in their running and in life in general. And that if they are determined to put in that hard work every day they will achieve what they’re striving for. And if they don’t achieve it the first time, always look to the next opportunity.”
Maliyah Jade: “Some advice I’d share with some of the younger athletes who hope to achieve a state title some day is to be open and try new things. You never know what you’re going to be good at until you try it. I went into high school with zero hurdle experience and with the thought of never even trying them… but I gave it a shot and continued practicing them and getting better and better each time, and eventually, that led me to a state title. It’s also a good idea to keep a positive mindset. Things aren’t always going to go as planned, but you can’t let that ruin everything else. You’ve got to just keeping working hard and moving forward.”
Elizabeth Hernandez: “A piece of advice I give to little girls is to never let go of your dreams, always keep working hard because there are no off days, and don’t let others stop you from your dreams. Also, have fun because its not all about winning, its also about having fun and creating special bonds with others.”
Hailey Lewetag: “The biggest advice I would give is to set big goals, believe in yourself always, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If your dream is to become a champion at anything, you must be willing to work harder then most people around you. Sometimes this means sacrificing the good for the great, and also making difficult decisions along the way. With enough focus, hard work, and discipline you really can accomplish almost anything you set out to. I believe most people who achieve great success have this type of champion mindset. In racing, even when you have a bad race, because you will, you have to keep your head up and remind yourself you can do great things. Remind yourself often of the goals you have set and trust in the process along the way. I would also say it’s important to surround yourself with positive people who support you in whatever you choose to do, even if that means changing your environment. These positive people are the people who have impacted me the most along the journey of trying to become the best athlete I can be. The sport of track and field can be hard but if you can have fun along the way you’ll never regret doing it.”