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TRACK AND FIELD: Federal Way seniors hoping to end illustrious careers as state champions
Dominant might be the best word to describe the Federal Way High School boys track and field team.
The program, under the direction of longtime head coach Sam Beesley, hasn’t lost a South Puget Sound League dual meet since the 2007 season, winning six league titles in a row with unbeaten records.
Leading the way for the Eagles has been a group of nine seniors that have been rocks of the program since they entered as ninth-graders. The group has never tasted a league defeat and hopes to go out standing on top of the podium as the Class 4A state team champions.
The group of Mike Tate (jumps, sprints), Aaron Persinger (hurdles), Branden Warren (pole vault), Albert Havili (throws), Ezekiel McNeal (sprints), D’Londo Tucker (sprints, jumps), Tremaine Rambo (distance), Napoleon Huynh (hurdles) and Caleb Dawson (hurdles) will leave Federal Way with four SPSL Central Division titles.
“When they came in, I asked them if they could keep it going and they’ve kept it going,” Beesley said. “They are winners.”
That’s just par for the course for the Federal Way boys track and field team. Winning is a way of life for the Eagles.
“When I got here, I got the feeling this team won a whole lot,” said McNeal, one of the top all-around sprinters in the state.
“Beesley told us that we have got to keep the tradition going,” Tucker said. “And we just kept it going. Nobody wants to be a loser. We always go out and try to win.”
Federal Way’s unbelievable winning tradition has never translated at the state meet, where no district school has ever won a boys team championship. The Eagles are hoping to change that this season and have the athletes to do just that.
Federal Way has 16 total athletes with times or distances that rank in the top eight in the entire Class 4A classification this year.
Persinger leads the state in both the 110-meter hurdles (14.87) and 300 hurdles (38.38), as does junior Keenan Curran (46 feet, 11.75 inches) in the triple jump and freshman Tyson Penn in the high jump (6-8.5). Tate is ranked second in the long jump (23-3.5), McNeal is third in both the 100 (10.91) and 200 (21.83), and Havili is third in the discus (171-1).
The Eagles also bring back three-fourths of the defending state-champion 4x400 relay team in Persinger, McNeal and Tate.
“I think we have it this year,” Havili said. “It would be a good way to end it.”
But these seniors aren’t the only ones who will end their illustrious careers at the state meet. Beesley will also hang up his well-used whistle after coaching track and field for 44 seasons.
Beesley was inducted into the Federal Way Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame in February and has coached at Thomas Jefferson, Decatur and Federal Way during his career. But one thing missing from his already-impressive resume is a state team championship, which could change over the Memorial Day weekend at Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma High School at Star Track.
“That would be a pretty cool way to go out,” Beesley admitted.
If everything works out during the SPSL and West Central/Southwest District meets, the Eagles will enter state as the prohibitive favorite.
Federal Way’s credentials are impeccable this season. Aside from dominating the SPSL Central Division, the Eagles also won three invitational meet championships in impressive fashion.
“This year, we’ve gone after it,” Beesley said. “In years past, we didn’t really try to win all the invitational meets we entered. This year, we did.”
Federal Way won the Tacoma Invitational, the Shoreline Invitational and the prestigious title at the Oregon Relays in Eugene. The Eagles became the first team to win the Shoreline title three years in a row since the meet was started in the 1980s.
Federal Way’s main competition at the state meet should come from the east side of the mountains: Mead and Ferris, both out of the Greater Spokane League, as well as Wenatchee.
“We feel like we should win state this year,” Tucker said. “We are going to give it our all. It’s kind of weird because it’s an individual sport, but we are doing it for the team. We have to sacrifice for the team. It definitely pushed us to get a first, second or third in the events.”
There is no doubting the athletic prowess of the seniors on the Eagle track team. Five of them have already inked Division-I scholarships. Tucker and Havili will play football at Eastern Washington University, Tate will play wide receiver at San Jose State, and McNeal will head to Fordham University in New York to play running back.
Persinger is the lone senior who will continue his track career in college at Memphis University in Tennessee.
“I want to win state in both events,” Persinger said about the 110 and 300 hurdles. “It definitely has become a goal. I guess I think about it right before I go to bed. ... It sounds nice. Real nice.”