CORVALLIS — For three track seasons, Hamilton's Ashlee Searle has been fighting with her left leg.
Before her freshman year, Searle had her first of three surgeries trying to repair a broken piece of femur near her kneecap.
Two more surgeries later, the third and final requiring a piece of bone from a cadaver that forced Searle to miss her entire junior year of track last season, the now-senior was back Wednesday at Corvallis' Bitterroot Time Trials for her first meet since the spring of 2017.
Her new knee didn't disappoint.
"This is the first time I've jumped for two years, so I was pretty happy," said Searle, who cleared 5 feet to not only win the girls high jump event, but also qualify for the Class A state track and field meet in May.
The 5-foot mark came as a bit of a surprise to both Searle and her coach, John Stromberg, who truly didn't know what to expect headed into the team's first meet of the season. The Broncs have only practiced high jump twice this season thanks to lingering snow and a belated start to the spring season.
That same wintry weather reared its head Wednesday, too, as heavy and wet snowflakes fell for most of the meet, dampening an otherwise soggy track that was still surrounded with snow. That snow made for a narrower takeoff lane for Searle, who (fortunately) jumps off her right leg from the right side. That saves the stress on her left knee, but it could have made for a lower score Wednesday.
But Searle showed the conditions — both external and internal — were no problem.
"It's pretty impressive. When she was a sophomore, she jumped 5-3, so we know she has it in her, but coming back from an injury, first time out — not bad," Stromberg said.
"She was jumping through pain for a long while. She's got a lot of potential, and once she gets her technique down and gets more and more comfortable with (her knee) we could see some pretty good jumps out of her."
Searle wasn't the only one in Corvallis to tame the elements and set a good mark in the first meet of the season.
Corvallis' Logan Lewis, Class A's reigning runner-up in the triple jump, finished first in his primary event at the Bitterroot Valley three-school Class A meet.
He hopped, stepped and jumped his way to a 40-foot, 8-inch mark, accomplishing something that took him four meets his junior season: eclipsing the 40-foot threshold.
"Last year it took me a while to hit 40 feet last year, and this year, first meet I got it," Lewis said. "Now I'm looking, hopefully, for that 45-foot mark."
A 45 would have been good for first place at last year's state track meet, as Zane Johnson — who also returns for Dillon — won with a 44-04.75.
But big early gains by Lewis showed that the Blue Devil jumper put in extra time in the offseason and is poised for a big year.
"We're really looking for big things from him. To be over 40 and right at 41 in the cold and the snow in the first meet, that's really what we're looking for," Corvallis coach Spencer Huls said. "I'm happy to see the consistency early. (A state championship) is a great goal for him this year. That's attainable and realistic and I don't think there's any reason he shouldn't be shooting for that."
Big jumps from Lewis can only help the Corvallis boys team in general, as the Blue Devils also officially started their Class A state title defense. The reigning state track and field team graduated champions Ridge Albright (high jump), Zach Jessop (javelin) as well as Jake Jessop in the 400 meters.
The Blue Devils may again run well in the 400, though. They impressed on Wednesday.
Corvallis finished 1-2 in the boys' 400 with sophomore Seth Stoker edging out his teammate, senior Jakob Dalbey, with a winning time of 54.88 seconds. Stoker's win should illustrate just how competitive practice is for the Blue Devil runners — Dalbey was a state placer in the once-around-the-track race last year.
"I just want to go out there and get better and push everyone else, especially Seth. Seth can run," said Dalbey, who finished fifth at state last year and second on Wednesday. "100-percent, (Seth pushes me). We don't always run together, but I know in the back of my mind that he's training for the same thing.
"He's training to beat me and I'm training to beat him."
Dalbey's example of friendly and dogged competition was everywhere in the first meet of the season for Corvallis, Hamilton and Stevensville as several kids put up impressive first-meet numbers. Stevi's Ashton Lewis had a winning long jump of 17 feet, clearing the state-meet qualifying standards by a foot.
Hamilton's Brynnli Poulsen, who finished second in the Class A state cross country meet last fall, won the girls' 1,600 race with a time of 5:41.34, just 13 seconds off the state qualifying mark.
All three schools will try to continue to improve on those solid first times in Frenchtown on April 6.