On a field where Gabe Pongasi and Trey Jensen have spent so much time competing together, it was only fitting that their final effort ended with a celebration on Saturday.
The two Carson High seniors joined Taylor Bradshaw and Clint Page on the podium to receive their third-place medals for the boys' 4x400 relay at the end of the Northern 4A Regional Championships at Carson's Jim Frank Track and Field Complex.
It wasn't a victory, just good enough to qualify for the NIAA State Championships next weekend in Las Vegas.
Ten Senators advanced to the state meet, which will be held on Friday and Saturday at Del Sol High.
Josilyn Daggs placed second in the girls' 100-meter hurdles, plus she combined with Elena Thurman, Allison Cowan and Kaitlyn Holmes to take third in the 4x200 relay. Eric Garcia placed second in the boys' pole vault and Pongasi second in the triple jump, while Alex Drozdoff placed third in the girls' 3,200 meters.
The Senators finished seventh in the girls' team standings and ninth in the boys' team standings.
Carson's boys 4x400 relay team experienced low and high emotions during a race in which it clocked a season best time of 3 minutes, 28.36 seconds, only to cross the finish line in fourth-place. The Senators finished fractions of a second behind Spanish Springs - a heart-breaking result since the top three advance to state. Moments later, the Senators saw their disappointment turn to joy when officials disqualified Spanish Springs for impeding a runner in the baton exchange zone.
The race had special meaning to Jensen and Pongasi, teammates on a Carson football team that reached the regional finals last fall and teammates on a 4x200 relay team that placed fourth earlier in the day. Pongasi put the Senators into the No. 3 spot by running his third leg in 52 seconds and Jensen ran 51 seconds for the anchor leg.
"We had nothing to lose," Jensen said. "It was the last race of our senior year. We just wanted to run as hard as we could."
That effort was what truly mattered, according to coach Robert Maw.
"I'm proud of them. It wasn't a gimme; they earned it," Maw said of the relay team's state qualifying berth. "They ran hard and they ran with a lot of emotion trying to get to state."
"I'm really proud of everyone. We're exciting to be going to state as a team," added Pongasi, who had earlier punched his ticket to state with a lifetime best mark of 42-10-1/2 in the triple jump.
Garcia was another senior who rose to the occasion when he tied his personal beat with a 14-6 jump in the pole vault.
"I'm extremely happy for him," said Jim Reid, who coaches Carson's vaulters. "Everything is coming together for him. He's healthy and jumping well right now."
Garcia's confidence received a boost on Thursday when he cleared 15-6 during practice. On Saturday, he made 14-feet on his first jump of the day and then clinched the state berth on his second try at 14-6. To show confidence, he passed at 14-9 in order to jump at 15 feet.
"I had a really good week of practice," Garcia said. "I'm using a stiffer pole now and that's helped. Lane (Maestretti of UCS Spirit) is going to bring some stiffer poles for me to use next week (at state), so I'm really stoked right now."
Lane Maestretti's son, Nick, won the competition with a personal record jump of 15-6. He went on to take three attempts at 16-0, which would have tied Douglas' school record set by Chris Chappell in 2000. Maestretti, who placed second at last year's state meet, entered the day with a best of 15-3.
"My first goal was to be in the top three and qualify for state and my next was to get a new PR.," Maestretti said. "My next is 16 (feet). I'm going for it now ... I'm hoping the warmer weather in Las Vegas will help me get there (at state)."
Daggs began her day with a personal record of 15.69 in the 100 hurdles.
"Josie ran a nice PR Into a head wind," Maw said of the freshman. "She's so competitive. She hates having anyone in front of her. If she's close to anyone in a race, she will hunt them down."
Thurman, Cowan and Holmes put Carson in the top three In the 4x200 and Daggs maintained that position to the finish as the Senators clocked a season best time of 1:48.90.
"They ran well together as a team," Maw said. "All the practice they did this week paid off. The exchanges were clean. It was a good team effort."
Drozdoff turned in a gutsy effort in the 3,200, as the freshman led much of the way and then held off Reno's Erika Root on the final homestretch to secure third-place and the trip to state.
"I really wanted to qualify," Drozdoff said. "Erika has such a good kick. She pushed me pretty much the whole last lap; she was starting to get a little ahead of me at the end and I said, 'Oh no.' I just tried to remember what my coaches told me about finishing strong."
Douglas had three state qualifiers on the girls side. Junior Amanda Brazeau placed second in the pole vault with a jump of 10-9 - behind the personal best effort of 11-7 by Galena's Madison Mills. Senior Brianne Burnside placed second in the discus with a personal best throw of 114-9 - behind Britney Dixon of Damonte Ranch, who threw 119-0. And sophomore Desieree Cage posted an improvement of two feet in the shot put with a throw of 35-1-1/4 for third place.
NOTES ... There were some close calls for athletes who came up just short in their bids to qualify for state. Among those was Douglas senior Justin Dry, who placed fourth in the boys discus at 151-5. The throw was a personal best by nearly 10 feet and put him in third-place after four rounds. However, in the fifth and next-to-last round, Connor Smith of Damonte Ranch unleashed a throw of 152-2 to knock Dry out of the top three. ... Damonte Ranch also foiled Carson's bid to reach state in the boys 4x200 relay. The Senators, who had the third fastest qualifying time coming into the regional final, ran a season best of 1:30.87 - only to trail Damonte by a step at the finish. "Their handoffs were nice, they p.r.'d, they just got outrun," Maw said of his team. ... In the girls 800, Aspen Abbott of Douglas also placed fourth with a 2:25.443 effort and Carson sophomore Mallory Wilson placed fifth in a personal best time of 2:27.74. ... Drozdoff also placed fifth in the 1,600 with a personal best time of 5:32.17 and Daggs placed sixth in the 100 in 13.24.