Cheney Free Press -

By John McCallum
Managing Editor 

Blackhawk girls come up short in state title bid


Robyn Doloughan

Cheney's girls 4x200 state championship team of Alsatta Bakana, Alexis Van Horne, Maddie Warren and Alexis Miller show off their first-place hardware.

It wasn't the way Cheney High girls head coach Tom Stralser would have preferred to have his track and field coaching career end, but it was still a satisfying conclusion nonetheless.

The Blackhawks battled through adversity and some disappointment to finish eighth overall at the 2A state track and field championships May 24-26 at Mt. Tahoma High School in Lakewood. Cheney scored 26 points, all hard-earned, to finish ahead of Lakewood but behind Sehome and Great Northern League rival Pullman, who tied for sixth.

"We had the girls in the position to win it," Stralser said. "We got points out of all the girls we needed to get points besides (University of Washington commit) Alsatta (Bakana)."

Bakana was troubled by a hamstring issue all season. Stralser said they nursed it through districts and regionals, but couldn't quite make it through state.

While not getting a time in the 200-meter dash, the senior put on her game face and managed a non-qualifying time in the 400 of 1 minute, 3.09 seconds.

"Hobbled, she still goes out and runs a 63 in the 400," Stralser said with admiration in his voice. "We would've scored 56 points if Alsatta was completely healthy. No way anybody is beating her in the 200 or 400."

The hamstring flared again the 4x100 relay finals, causing Bakana to pull up some on the anchor leg. She still helped teammates Maddie Warren, Alexis Miller and Alexis Van Horne to an eighth-place finish in 53.54.

In the 4x200, Bakana reached down inside herself and found enough extra to manufacture a 10-meter lead in the third leg of the finals, handing the baton to Warren who didn't panic and gave the Cheney girls their only victory of the meet, taking first with a time of 1:44.36.

"The exchanges were adequate, and the girls are state champs," Stralser said. "How about that?"

The Blackhawks did manage some individual success, mainly in the pole vault. Sophomore Sophia Van Wormer went 11 feet, 6 inches to finish second, one foot behind Granite Falls' senior Kelsey Bassett.

Cheney senior Zoe Lamb added to the scoring by finishing fifth with a personal record vault of 11 feet. Junior Makayla Miller wrapped up her season in a four-way tie for 12th at 9-06.

On the track, senior Jolene Whiteley ran a tough race to finish sixth in the 800 in 2:21.39, coming close to setting a PR.

"She got caught, boxed in, and that cost her energy at the end," Stralser said. "That's something that comes from experience at big track meets."

The 4x400 relay team of Sara Graham, Whiteley, Megan Habegger and Jaela Thornberg was 14th overall in a very tough field. Stralser said they would've all needed 2-3 second PRs to qualify for the finals.

Stralser told his girls at their dinner after the meet on Saturday that he was stepping down, ending a long career that included not only head coaching but individual event - pole vault - coaching. He felt Cheney was in a position to win a state title, but just didn't have things go its way.

"I'm disappointed we couldn't deliver a title to the school," Stralser said. "There's nothing to be disappointed about in any way, shape or form in how the girls competed."

John McCallum can be reached at


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