EAGLE — Zac Bright bowed his head and stared at the ground, like a magician from The Prestige waiting to wow the audience with the trick he’s perfected from years of practice. He wore his orange Idaho Falls top, black shorts, no shoes. The crowd behind him, a packed audience at Saturday’s 5A/4A state track meet at Eagle High School, waited to hear the star senior’s name called.
When his name rang over the PA system — “In first place, Zac Bright, from Idaho Falls!” — Bright strode around in front of the backdrop and took the top perch. Fans shot photos. Bright beamed. His high school career wasn’t quite over, but he had just won the last event he burns for.
“Last night, it started to set in,” Bright said. “Sitting at dinner, I was like, ‘Wow. I’ve really got one more day left at IF.’ It’s starting to set in that it’s over. But the way I’ve run the meet so far, in the events I care about the most, it’s helping me to close the book really well on high school and look forward to next year in college.”
Bright could hardly have ended his high school career in more fitting fashion. He leaves as a three-time state champion.
In 2019, he won the 800. On Friday, Bright’s 4x800 relay team of himself, Luke Athay, Joseph Ereaux and Ben Behrmann won with a time of 7:57.06, the program’s first such title. Finally, on Saturday, Bright captured the 5A boys 800 state championship.
This means the end of the high school career of Bright, one of District 6’s most decorated distance runners.
“Zac is a great kid. He’s influential to everyone on his team,” Idaho Falls coach Kelcee Christiansen said. “It’s not just that he’s the best. He’s humble, and he’s kind, and he’s supportive. He just has this sportsmanlike conduct that you don’t see from all athletes.”
Idaho Falls’ boys team finished sixth overall at the 5A/4A state meet, with 42 points. That was District 6’s second-best team finish. The top honors went to the Skyline girls, who completed a second-place showing in 4A with 82 points.
Other top-10 team performances included one from the Rigby boys, who took ninth with 38 points, and the Blackfoot boys, who placed ninth with 33 points.
The team titles belonged to the Boise girls, Rocky Mountain boys and the Bishop Kelly boys and girls, who swept the 4A championships.
The local individual highlights were many — Skyline freshman Nelah Roberts snagged a pair of state titles, Idaho Falls freshman Luke Athay took second in the 5A boys 1600 stand out — but let’s break them down by classification.
At Idaho Falls, outside of Bright, his teammate shone brightest. Freshman Luke Athay placed second in the 5A boys 1600, clocking in at 4:19.11, three spots ahead of teammate Joseph Ereaux, who place fifth with a time of 4:21.74.
“It’s super exciting,” Athay said of his outing. “I would not have thought that I would be here last year — or even in the last cross country season. I’ve progressed a lot, and I feel like I owe it to my teammates, to a brother (Mitchell) who is such a great runner and help in my life, and to the great coaches. I’m super hyped, but I feel they deserve just as much credit as I do.”
Elsewhere in 5A, Thunder Ridge junior Tao Johnson capped off his debut track season with a state title in the 5A boys 100, timing in at 10.82. He also took third with his 4x100 relay team of himself, Maxwell Whitehouse, Kody Robinson and Elijah Johnson.
That’s impressive of anyone, but particularly of a junior running track for the first time.
“It feels great. Never expected this,” said Johnson, who also took third in the long jump with a mark of 22-02.00. “I just feel relieved, knowing that I did it, with the pressure. I feel great.”
In the field events, Rigby’s Tylie Jones took fourth in the triple jump, checking in at 35-01.00.
Madison’s Kayson Smith and Elijah Backstein took fifth and sixth in the high jump, with marks of 6-02.00.
Rigby freshman Abbie Scott cleared 11 feet in the 5A girls pole vault, good for fourth place in the event.
The highlight of District 6 4A action — outside of Skyline freshman Nelah Roberts claiming state titles in the 3200 and 1600, both via school-record times — belonged to Skyline sophomore Claire Petersen, who captured state titles in the 100 hurdles (15.07 seconds), 300 hurdles (44.44 seconds) and 100-meter dash (12.13 seconds), the last of which broke a 4A class record.
With the hurdles wins, Petersen finished the season unbeaten in both events. She lost just one 100 this season, which came in her team’s first meet of the year.
The intriguing part for Petersen, though, is that wasn’t what she felt most proud of, not exactly.
“The most important thing to me is that I continue to get better,” Petersen said. “Whether I win as I get better or if I lose, the thing that matters to me most is that I just continue to improve personally, not so much just winning everything.
“Winning isn’t enough for me. I do care about winning. But I just really want to improve every single time. I don’t want to stay in the same place. I want to keep getting better.”
Also at Skyline, the Grizzly girls’ 4x100 relay team of Hailee Mitchell, Petersen, Tasha Miller and Mattie Olson captured the state title, finishing in 49.72 seconds.
“Once I crossed, I was like, ‘We did that,’” said Olson, the final leg of the relay team. “I got excited. It was crazy. It’s the best feeling.”
Sugar-Salem’s girls racked up 107 points to outdistance Timberlake by 32 points to claim the state team title. The Diggers last won the title in 2017.
It was truly a team effort, as wins in the relays provided plenty of points. Jaresa Jackson also ran to a state title in the 800.
The boys team, which had won the last three state titles and six of seven, finished second behind Kimberly.
In one of the tightest races of the day, Carsen Draper of South Fremont held off Sugar-Salem’s Porter Holt to win the 800 in a time of 1:57.74. Holt crossed in 1:57.87.
The Salmon boys, who’ve been the team to beat in cross country, won the team title, snapping a four-year run by Nampa Christian.
As expected, Salmon earned points in the distance races with brothers Johnathon and Daniel Simmon medaling in the 3,200 and 1,600.
Johnathon set a class record in the 1,600 of 4:19.15, but finished second to Nampa Christian’s Grady Mylander. The same thing happened in Friday’s 3,200 race, where both set classification records, but Mylander finished about a half step ahead.
Salmon did have a double winner in Will Garrett, who won the pole vault and 110 hurdles. Teammate Sedona Cannon won the girls pole vault.
Tara Butler of Firth cleared 5-2 in the girls high jump for a gold medal.
The Firth girls and Salmon boys also won the 4x200 relays.
Firth placed fourth in the girls team standings, just two points away from runner-up Aberdeen.
Butte County earned two state titles as Kiya McAffee won the girls shot put and Natalya Babcock outran the pack to win the 800.
Mackay’s Meghan Moore won the girls discus with a mark of 109-02.
The Butte County girls finished fourth as a team with 34 points.