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Crater’s Andy Monroe finishes winning the Class 5A 3,000-meter race at the 2017 state championships despite tearing the plantar fascia ligament in his right foot. He’ll be back in action this week during the Midwestern League district meet.

Injured stars Monroe, Bennion make track return

Andy Monroe, he of five state championships in a storied high school running career for Crater High, raced the other day.

It was in a junior varsity event.

St. Mary’s Emma Bennion, with three state championships to her name — all on the track — also appeared in a recent meet. In a field event.

She threw the javelin, and that it didn’t go very far didn’t particularly matter.

What mattered in both instances is that two of the more decorated track and field athletes in the state are making their way back from injuries in time for their respective district competitions this week and their state meets the following week.

Other than in relays, athletes must place in the top two at district, or meet qualifying standards, to advance to state.

A third athlete who has had a hand in four state titles, Cascade Christian junior Emily Stephens, continues to rehabilitate a knee that was injured during the basketball season and remains sidelined.

Monroe, a senior who will run for Stanford in college, has battled foot injuries for the past year. He tore the plantar fascia ligament in his right foot while winning the Class 5A championship in the 3,000 meters at least year’s state meet.

He came back in the fall to claim a second straight cross country title, fighting through immense pain. Since the fall, he’s had two stress fractures and a stress reaction in the same foot.

Monroe kept his fitness up with work in a pool and attempted a comeback the first week of April in a big meet in Arcadia, California. He ran on the Comets’ 4x800 relay one day, then wasn’t able to finish the mile the next day because of discomfort in his other foot, the left.

About halfway through, Monroe realized something wasn’t right.

“I really started to feel like something bad was about to happen,” said Monroe. “I thought, this wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to go through that again. It was just kind of instinct. If it would have ended badly, that would affect my college career, and that ultimately is what we’re focusing on.”

He eased back into action April 21, running a low-profile 3,000 at the Medford Distance Carnival, then improved more than 40 seconds, to 9 minutes, 7.57 seconds a week later at the Jesuit twilight meet in Portland.

The latter time is 35 seconds off his personal best, but it’s encouraging.

So, too, was the JV 800 he ran on Wednesday in a low-key three-way meet against Ashland and Eagle Point.

“It’s hard coming back when you’ve been on top and pushing so hard,” said Crater distance coach Justin Loftus. “He’s just a competitor. We wanted to get him in a race without any pressure.”

Monroe won by 15 seconds. His time was 2:01.

More importantly, he made it through unscathed while running a faster pace.

Monroe won state in the 1,500 and 3,000 as a sophomore. The injury in the 3,000 last year kept him from potentially adding another 1,500 title to his resume.

He won’t be in those races this year, either. At the Midwestern League district meet Thursday and Saturday in Springfield, he’ll enter the 800 and run a leg on the 4x400 relay.

There are no guarantees of a top-two finish in the 800. The MWL also features Marist’s Jerik Embleton, the reigning 5A state champion, and Ashland’s Alex Franklin, who was third a year ago.

It’s been a “process” to get Monroe to this point, said Loftus.

Monroe has abandoned wearing spikes since Arcadia. Having him run shorter races at district means he’ll spend less time on the track, which might be better for his foot, but “he’ll be on his toes more and pushing off,” said Loftus.

Monroe has responded well to speed work the past couple weeks, said Loftus.

“This is like the first two weeks where I haven’t been injured at all,” said Monroe. “I’m just now starting to get in shape.”

He’s eager to compete in the district meet.

“We’re not basing this season around the conference and state meets,” he said. “I just want to go there and support my teammates and have some fun with it. There are no real goals for this track season.”

He hopes to stay healthy, continue training for post-high school meets and put up good times before he begins his freshman year at Stanford.

Bennion’s presence at St. Mary’s events is a bonus, too.

Hence, the junior team captain’s entry in the javelin during an April 25 meet. She debuted with a 10th-place finish after throwing 72 feet.

“She’s such a great part of the team, we want to have her out there,” said Crusaders coach Joe Volk. “Her presence on the team is something we value very highly. Just having her at the meet was a lot of fun. She got to do an event she hadn’t done before.”

Bennion experienced a lower-leg stress reaction after basketball season and just as track was beginning.

She stayed away from track but remained active with swimming, biking and exercise machines.

“She’s actually in really good shape,” said Volk. “We haven’t raced her just because of the demands of the events she does.”

Bennion has won two straight Class 3A state championships in the 300 hurdles, and last year she was on the winning 4x400 relay.

She’s expected to run those events and the 800 at the district meet Friday and Saturday at Illinois Valley High in Cave Junction.

“She’s looking good and looking healthy,” said Volk. “We’re very excited about getting her ready for district.”

On Friday in a dual meet at Illinois Valley, Bennion raced for the first time since the first week of March, taking the anchor leg in the 4x400 relay. She ran an easy split of 1:04 without issue.

Cascade Christian’s Stephens was on two Class 3A state-winning relays as a freshman. Last year, she captured the state 400, ran a leg on the winning 4x100 relay and was second in the high jump.

She tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee during a Jan. 19 basketball game.

She recently began running on an antigravity treadmill and hopes to be running outside in a month.

“It’s a lot of just strengthening right now,” she said.

Stephens’ goal is to be cleared for basketball next winter and “be completely healthy for track,” she said.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

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