It’s understandable that your rivals are your rivals during the regular season.
Maybe in some cases, you can even have that anyone-but-them feeling when it comes to the postseason.
Put three guys — Parker Walton of Post Falls High, Alex Ayers of Lake City and Zac Magee of Coeur d’Alene into a race — and the main goal is to beat the other guy.
But on one Saturday afternoon this spring, all that stuff took a backseat for a few minutes at Dona Larsen Park in Boise.
THE THREE, fighting tooth and nail in the 400-meter dash all spring, collided once again in the finals of the 400 at the state 5A track and field meet in May.
“It was aggressive throughout the season,” Ayers recalled. “All three of us knew we were the fastest guys. For us personally all spring, the plan was basically to beat the other guy. If you’re training, that’s what the coaches want you to think. And it was high competition throughout the regular season.”
Magee won the 400 at the 2016 state meet in Boise.
“I didn’t feel any added pressure heading into the event this year,” said Magee of a repeat title. “I’d had some personal issues going on, so I wasn’t really running at my best.”
The three didn’t always compete in the same 400 at meets during the season. When two or more of them competed, Magee usually won, and Ayers won some. In the four meets that all three competed in prior to state, Magee won all four.
But in the state finals of the 400, Walton blazed past the competition for a personal best of 48.33 seconds to win the state title. Ayers was second in 48.40 and Magee fourth at 48.68.
“I was always the third best and they pushed me the entire year,” Walton said. “They were really good competition and without them, I don’t think I would have been very good.”
“Alex and I have always had a friendly competition with each other,” Magee said. “Parker and I didn’t get along really well, especially this year. It was more of a bitter rivalry more than a friendly rivalry.”
That all changed when the three — the lone qualifiers in the event from Region 1 — advanced to state.
“When it comes to state, it all changes to a rivalry against the Boise schools,” Ayers said. “Throughout the entire season, it wasn’t that bad and we all like each other now. But it got a little heated at some point.”
WALTON HELD a slight lead with 30 meters remaining in the state 400 finals, then wound up diving for the finish line to earn the title.
“I saw a figure behind me and knew I had to do it,” said Walton of the flip. “I saw the finish line, and just said I had to go for it and make sure. I just kind of leaned forward and jumped.”
“I honestly didn’t see him in the race,” said Ayers, who was a lane by Mountain View’s Caleb Hardy for the race. “I didn’t see him at all and was unsure of where I finished. When I figured it out, I was happy for Parker. All day, I’d been thinking I’d get my win in the (300) hurdles (which he won later that day). I finished second in 2016 (in the 400), and all I really wanted was to get the win for the North. I think we were all happy we could spread it around.”
Magee was the first to Walton following the race to help him up.
“It was the craziest finish to a race I’ve seen,” Magee said. “I’d never seen anyone flip before. But the thing was, he had a pretty decent lead, and I didn’t think it was necessary. But it shows just how bad he wanted it. I was definitely shocked to see him do it, but he really wanted it. To dive, it means you’re leaving it out there.”
“Zac reached down and pulled me up,” Walton said. “I didn’t know that I’d won at that point, but he picked me up and gave me a hug. Being such tough competitors through the season, and to be so supportive at state was great.”
Ayers and Magee joined Walton for a victory lap following the race.
“It was so cool to do that,” Ayers said. “I don’t think some other places have the kind of community we have. All three of us are at meets that nobody else is really at. With the state meet, we all grew up running together and have that connection in the community. We’d all been running together since cross country, and still celebrate each other when they win. It was cool to celebrate together through our successes.”
All three have signed to run in college — Walton at Montana State, Ayers at Northern Colorado and Magee at NCAA Division II Northwest Nazarene.
AS IT turns out, the trio will team up for the Junior Olympics national meet July 24-30 in Lawrence, Kan., joining forces with Jake Ulrich of Eastmont High in East Wenatchee, Wash., to form a 4x400 relay team for the event. Ulrich won the Washington state 4A title in the 400 in a personal best 47.11 seconds.
“With all the good competitors on this team we could run a crazy fast time,” Walton said. “We could really win this thing.”
Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.