Carmen Mejia doesn't know what it's like to run from behind in her new favorite track event.
She undoubtedly hopes that trend continues.
The South Medford senior, in only the fourth 800-meter race of her high school career, set a school and Southwest Conference district meet record Saturday at Roseburg High.
Mejia, who took up the event less than a month ago in a nondescript dual meet, churned out a time of 2 minutes, 14.28 seconds to qualify for the state championships next Friday and Saturday in Eugene.
"In her four races," said Panthers coach Mark Losinski, "she has never run behind anyone at any part of the race. She's been in the lead the whole way. For a lot of distance runners, that would be unsettling. With Carmen, we just tell her to run hard ... she doesn't seem to tire like other girls tend to do. She ran awesome."
Mejia was one of four local athletes to claim district titles on the second day of the two-day meet. A handful of finals and preliminary races were held Thursday.
Mejia's teammate, triple-jumper Kyle Larson, won his specialty with a leap of 43 feet, 21/4 inches.
For North Medford, high jumping was the order of the day. Halley Folsom won the girls event at 5-3, and Mario Filippi took the boys at 6-0.
The top two placers in each event qualified for state. Others — such as in the boys 800 — advanced by meeting the qualifying standard. Still others figure to get in as wild-card entries once results of district meets across the state are tabulated.
Mejia had always been a sprinter for the Panthers and was especially strong in the 400. But when she tried the 800 in a dual meet against Ashland on April 24, her time was impressive. It improved her next time out, then she turned in an effortless trip in Thursday's prelims to make the finals.
Mejia's style is to run the first 200 or 300 meters fast, settle into a comfortable pace, then turn on the jets again for the final couple hundred meters.
"That's one thing she has over other 800 runners," said Losinski. "She has really good foot speed."
She beat feisty freshman Mahala Norris of Roseburg across the finish line. Norris' time was 2:14.43.
Both marks were better than the previous district record of 2:14.82 by South Eugene's Paige Kouba last year.
"She runs just like Carmen does," Losinski said of Norris. "Her coaches tell her to just go out and hang on the hip of whoever's in front."
Mejia broke the school record of Lauren Morgan, who went 2:14.79 in 2010.
Mejia also was on the Panthers' 4x400 team that secured a state berth by placing second. She teamed with Sarah Kapple, Lael Smith and Montana Logue for a time of 4:01.28. Grants Pass' winning time was 3:57.88.
The senior Larson didn't have his best day; his winning jump was nearly a foot under his career best.
"He gutted it up," said Losinski. "He didn't look particularly poppy or explosive, but he competed really well."
Another highlight for South Medford came from freshman thrower Makai Manuwai. He improved on his personal best by 4 feet with a throw of 140-2. Dranke Brennan of Grants Pass won at 145-3.
For North Medford, Filippi, a sophomore, won because he had fewer misses than Ryan Brady of Sheldon and Dustin Harrah of Grants Pass. All cleared 6-0, then Filippi missed three times at 6-1. The other two bypassed 6-1 and came back in at 6-2, each missing all three attempts.
"He played it safe and it worked out for the best," said North Medford coach Piet Voskes.
Folsom, meanwhile, beat out Sheldon's Geneva Lehnert, who cleared 5-2.
The Black Tornado sophomore was an inch shy of her season best, and the win helped ease the pain of coming in second in the 300 hurdles, where she hit a hurdle and switched lead legs a couple times.
"She was pretty down," said Voskes, "but we may look back and see it as a silver lining because it lit a fire under her."
Folsom, whose career best is 5-5, made a gallant effort at the school high jump record of 5-6, set by Haley Godfrey in 2004. With the bar at 5-61/4, Folsom barely missed on her first try.
"She just clipped it at the very end with her heel," said Voskes.
Two North Medford runners were among a whopping five to make it out of the boys 800 — the first two by places, the next three by qualifying time. Seniors Blake Spencer (1:57.71) and Devyn Baldovino (1:57.99) eclipsed the standard of 1:58.91.
TEAM SCORES — Sheldon 167.5, Grants Pass 107, North Medford 92, South Eugene 85.5, Roseburg 61, Thurston 60, South Medford 53, Crater 35.
4X100-METER RELAY — 1, Sheldon (Adam Starnes, Nathan Starnes, Tyus Kuykendall, Mitch Horning) 41.80; 2, Grants Pass 42.58; 3, North Medford 43.15.
100 METERS — 1, Mitch Horning, She, 10.80; 2, Nathan Starnes, She, 11.05; 3, Adam Starnes, Shel, 11.07.
200 METERS — 1, Mitch Horning, She, 21.89; 2, Adam Starnes, She, 22.39; 3, Jason Thomas, Ros, 22.66.
400 METERS — 1, Sam Elling, SE, 50.32; 2, Melamei Ole-Ronkei, SE, 50.71; 3, Brently Sturm, Cra, 51.07.
800 METERS — 1, Jackson Darland, She, 1:57.61; 2, Henry West, SE, 1:57.64; 3, Blake Spencer, NM, 1:57.71.
1,500 METERS — 1, Jackson Darland, She, 4:00.44; 2, Cameron Martin, SE, 4:04.05; 3, TJ Wright, She, 4:04.15.
110-METER HURDLES — 1, Zac Hannan, GP, 14.94; 2, Tristan Mehlhaff, She, 14.96; 3, Luke Fotuallii 15.09.
300-METER HURDLES — 1, Zac Hannan, GP, 38.84; 2, Tyus Kuykendall, She, 39.04; 3, Calvin Park, SE, 39.11.
DISCUS — 1, Drake Brennan, GP, 145-3; 2, Makai Manuwai, SM, 140-2; 3, Jayce Keller, Thu, 138-7.
HIGH JUMP — 1, Mario Filippi, NM, 6-0; 2, Ryan Brady, She, 6-0; 3, Dustin Harrah, GP, 6-0.
TRIPLE JUMP — 1, Kyle Larson, SM, 43-2.25; 2, Lake Sain-Thomason, GP, 42-10.5; 3, Yadie Dunmore, She, 42-4.25.
4X400-METER RELAY — 1, Sheldon (Tyus Kuykendall, Jackson Darland, James Stock, Mitch Horning) 3:22.57; 2, Roseburg 3:23.05; 3, South Eugene 3:23.07.
TEAM SCORES — Sheldon 147, South Eugene 112, Grants Pass 105.5, Roseburg 84.5, North Medford 65, South Medford 59, Thurston 58, Crater 31.
4X100-METER RELAY — 1,Grants Pass (Tarisa Olinski, Tierra Barrett, Tiffany Barrett, Rachele Bedsole) 48.83; 2, South Eugene 49.50; 3, Sheldon 50.30.
100 METERS — 1, Aliyah Gallup, Thu, 12.55; 2, Paige Mbachu, SE, 12.62; 3, Emily Carlson, NM, 12.65.
200 METERS — 1, Aliyah Gallup, Thu, 25.36; 2, Tierra Barrett, GP, 25.71; 3, Emily Carlson, NM, 25.75.
400 METERS — 1, Tierra Barrett, GP, 57.77; 2, Rachele Bedsole, GP, 58.21; 3, Taylor Carman, She, 58.67.
800 METERS — 1, Carmen Mejia, SM, 2:14.28; 2, Mahala Norris, Ros, 2:14.43; 3, Phacelia Cramer, SE, 2:16.40.
1,500 METERS — 1, Erin Clark, SE, 4:29.42; Maggie Schmaedick, She, 4:35.94; 3, Mahala Norris, Ros, 4:38.94.
100-METER HURDLES — 1, Sydnee Hale, She, 15.31; 2, Hannah Leatham, She, 16.00; 3, Maddie Doerr, SE, 16.20.
300-METER HURDLES — 1, Kylee O'Connor, She, 45.69; 2, Halley Folsom, NM, 45.74; 3, Emily Lemons, SM, 46.87.
DISCUS — 1, Ana Richardson, SE, 123-9; 2, Kristina Clark, GP, 116-5; 3, Kendell Erb, NM, 112-9.
HIGH JUMP — 1, Halley Folsom, NM, 5-3; 2, Geneva Lehnert, She, 5-2; 3, Katie Evans, SE, 5-2.
TRIPLE JUMP — 1, Aliyah Gallup, Thu, 35-4.75; 2, Kathryn Pitts, Ros, 35-0.25; 3, Belle Diouf, She, 34-7.25.
4X400-METER RELAY — 1, Grants Pass (Tiffany Barrett, Andrea Theriau, Rachele Bedsole, Tierra Barrett) 3:57.88; 2, South Medford 4:01.28; 3, Sheldon 4:01.93.