CORVALLIS — Last spring, Darby's Casey Ehmann was the underdog in the 300-meter hurdles at the Class C state track meet to the defending state champ and graduating senior Kailee Oliverson of Twin Bridges.
But a school-record-setting time of 46.46 seconds crowned Ehmann, then a junior, the top dog in the event.
"There's always somebody coming up, there's always somebody pushing," Darby coach Steve Gideon said Tuesday. "The comment (to Casey) at state (last year) was, well, there's always next year for you.
"Well now, you don't want that next younger person (to beat you)."
Next year started off solidly enough for Ehmann in her signature race, as the Darby senior won the 300-meter hurdles at Tuesday's Florence/Darby Invitational track and field meet in Corvallis. She clocked in at 48.88 seconds, surging ahead from a close pack in the final two hurdles.
"I felt really strong conditioning-wise at the end so I was really happy with the race," Ehmann said. "I was really motivated because around the (last turn) I heard people yelling 'pass her, pass her.' I was like, oh no — I have to go.
"That was kind of my motivation... and I really wanted it to just prove that I'm back for this season."
Ehmann, ever the competitor, had some extra incentive two lanes to the inside of her, too. Finishing right on Ehmann's heels with a second-place time of 49.21 was Charlo's Carlee Fryberger. Fryberger, who edged Ehmann in the 100-meter hurdles earlier on Tuesday, is running the 300 hurdles for the first time this season.
The sophomore has some pedigree in the hurdles, though, as she finished second last year at the Class C state meet in the 100 hurdles to — who else? — Oliverson.
"I felt good, it's really good having (Ehmann) right next to me, pushing me. It makes me a lot better," Fryberger said. "She's such a good athlete and to have her there to push and make me a better athlete is awesome."
The 1-2 finishes by Ehmann and Fryberger in the hurdle events certainly lends itself to the thought of a thrilling rivalry between the two Western C runners.
This year, though, Ehmann is the upperclassman — and defending state title winner — with the target on her back. Tuesday's 300 hurdles showed that Fryberger and the rest of the field still have some sighting in to do to catch her.
But it should very well be an exciting race anytime the two runners meet this season.
"There's definitely some strong competition between (Fryberger and me), we're both really competitive and feisty," Ehmann said, chuckling. "But it's definitely so much fun running against her."
Ehmann wasn't the only Darby hurdler to have a solid day in the 300. Dylan Parks, competing in track for the first time in two seasons won his comeback race in come-from-behind fashion with a time of 42.92 seconds.
Parks, who was leading at the 200-meter mark, clipped a hurdle coming out of the final turn, dropped to his hands and momentarily fell out of first place.
Even with a bloodied hand, Parks rallied for the win.
"I knew I was going down when I hit the hurdle. I hit the ground and looked up and he was just in front of me," Parks said of Dillon's Treyton Anderson. "I just chased him to the end."
The leading Dillon hurdler hit the final hurdle, and though it didn't send him tumbling, it did slow him just enough for Parks to take the Blue Ribbon. Anderson crossed the line in second place.
It wasn't all heartache for Dillon, though, as the Beavers had one of the most impressive performances of the day from Alfred Peterson in the long jump. Peterson — on his first jump of the meet and of the season — sprang out to a winning leap of 21 feet, 10 inches. The jump was over a foot better than his personal best from last season, and it qualified the Dillon jumper for state.
The 21-10 mark would have been good for second place at last year's Class A state meet.
"I was ready to go, I was excited, so I just went up and went for it," Peterson said. "I made it to state last year, I just didn't do as well as I wanted to at state, so I just worked in the offseason."
Although Tuesday's 24-school meet was largely comprised of Class B and Class C programs, there was competitive shot put showcase between the reigning Class A champ and last year's runner up in the event from Class C. Corvallis' Calla Haldorson and Arlee's Peyton Lammerding were separated by a half inch in the shot put with Lammerding claiming the blue ribbon Tuesday. The Arlee junior heaved the 4 kilogram sphere 36 feet, 8.5 inches to sneak by Haldorson.
Corvallis throwing coach Garrett Middleton was excited to see the close competition as he's Haldorson's everyday coach and has coached Lammerding, too.
"I've known Peyton since she was in junior high coming to our throwing camps. To see how she's progressing this year is awesome," Middleton said. "It's always good to see a good competition. Different athletes throwing close to each other, they always push each other that way."
Both girls had improved from Saturday's Frenchtown Invitiational meet. Haldorson took the biggest stride, gaining over three feet from her 33 foot, 0.75 inch throw.
"I was second Saturday with a 33 and second again by a half inch with a 36.8 today," Haldorson said, smiling.
Haldorson, and the most of the Class A Bitterroot schools as well as Florence, will look to keep improving come Saturday's Missoula County Public School's Invitational meet on Saturday. Darby and Victor's next scheduled meet is the Dave Tripp Memorial meet in Polson on Friday.