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It’s been a painful track & field season for Preston’s Taite Priestley, but it’s also been a very rewarding one.

The senior has put off knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus for a chance to win a state title — a goal he was able to accomplish on Day 1 of the 4A State Championships, which are being contested at Rocky Mountain High School. Priestley reigned supreme in Friday’s high jump by soaring over the bar at 6 feet, 4 inches.

“It was one of the best feelings I’ve felt in sports in a long time,” Priestley said.

The senior has consistently been clearing the bar at 6-8 this spring and is Idaho’s top-ranked high jumper in all classifications, thanks to his meet record of 6-10 at the Tiger-Grizz Invitational. Having to compete in back-to-back weeks made it difficult for Priestley to jump as high as he typically does.

“It was challenging,” said Priestley, who suffered the injury, which is in his plant knee, during the basketball season. “It usually takes a week or two for my knee to be feeling like it is in good enough condition to compete.”

Priestley headlined a solid opening day for the Preston boys, who racked up 24 points and are in third place after seven events. Fellow Preston senior Benson Palmer put together a clutch performance in the pole vault.

Palmer PRed by a foot when he vaulted over the bar at 14-6. That was easily good enough for the silver medal — 13-6 would have done the trick — plus Palmer now shares the school record with Kelly Short.

“It’s crazy to think that I cleared 14-6,” Palmer said. “All week I just wanted to clear 14-0 at state and when I cleared the bar at 14-6, I was speechless. It’s an amazing feeling to share the school record.”

Palmer’s teammate, Kimble Rigby, also scored team points in the pole vault by finishing seventh (12-6).

Three other Preston athletes who shined Friday were Akazia Knapp, Sam Jeppsen and Angelie Scott. Knapp was the bronze medalist in the discus (108-1), while Jeppsen and Scott placed fifth in absolutely loaded fields in the girls and boys 3,200 meters. Jeppsen clocked in at 9:31, while Scott’s time of 11:11 shattered the school record by 10 seconds. That was also the best time by a Cache Valley high school girl in that event this spring.

“We had an idea of her potential with how she finished cross country, but as she has gained confidence and experience this season it has been remarkable how far she has come,” PHS head coach Brandon Lyon said. “And she is still learning and growing. It has been exciting to watch and as a freshman, exciting to see what’s to come.”

Preston’s Nick Nielson was half an inch away from securing a team point in the long jump. The junior was ninth (20-4.5).

Preston’s Brecker Knapp qualified for Saturday’s finals in the 110 and 300 hurdles, and freshman Elly Jeppsen, Sam’s sister, posted the second-fastest qualifying time in the 400 (59.69).

WEST SIDE

West Side’s Aubrie Barzee certainly picked a great time to put together the best performance of her short prep career. The freshman destroyed her old school record in the 3,200 by 22 seconds and held off friendly rival Elise Kelsey of Bear Lake to capture the 2A state title. Barzee clocked in at 11:39.46, while Kelsey, the 2019 2A cross country champ, completed the race of 11:39.97.

“It really means a lot,” Barzee said. “(Kelsey) is a great competitor and we have been racing against each other since I was in sixth grade. It’s nice to have someone to push me.”

Barzee tucked in behind Kelsey and three other runners for the lion’s share of the race, and made her move with about 500 meters remaining. Was Barzee nervous Kelsey was going to catch her?

“(Over) the final 100 meters, I didn’t know where she was compared to me,” Barzee said. “I just did my best and I feel fortunate that I won.”

Three other West Side athletes who scored a significant amount of team points on Day 1 of the 2A meet — which is being held at Middleton High School — were Bryler Shurtliff, Hayden Robinson and Kynlee Beckstead. Shurtliff was the runner-up in the long jump (20-7.75), while Robinson won a bronze medal in the triple jump (41-5.75), as did Beckstead in the pole vault (8-6).

Beckstead and the Lady Pirates sparkled in the pole vault as teammates Madalyn Beckstead (sixth place, 8-0), Jocie Phillips (seventh, 8-0) and Alaina Telford (eighth, 7-6) also scored points.

Andrew Olinger placed sixth in the shot put (43-3.5) for the Pirates, while Natalie Lemmon was ninth in the long jump (14-3), plus Robinson tied for ninth in the high jump (5-8). West Side’s boys and girls medley relay teams both finished fourth.

Shurtliff punched his ticket to Saturday finals in the 100 and 200, as did teammate Easton Henderson in both hurdles events. West Side’s Josh Reeder will be the No. 2 seed in the 400 finals (51.69).

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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