BOULDER — The Jefferson High Panthers boys track and field team is coming off another state title victory at the Class B state meet. This is the third title in a row for the Panthers.
A key contributor on this three-peat title run for Jefferson, senior Jace Oxarart has competed at the Montana state track meet every eligible year of his brief high school career. He would place third in the men’s javelin and ran the third leg in both the 400- and 1,600-relays at the state meet in Butte this May.
“When I got done throwing (javelin), I went right over to the relay and it was already time to go so, I wasn’t too warmed up, but it still went well. We took first in our flight, and we ended up taking second the next day,” said Oxarart, who graduated just prior to the 2023 state meet this spring.
Oxarart added that the Panthers boys track never lost while he was in high school.
“Well, it feels great to win so I just didn’t really want to know what it felt like to lose,” noted Oxarart.
Fellow senior, and future Montana Tech Oredigger, Dylan Root, has also been a key member of this team during the last three years. At the state meet, he placed first in the 110-meter hurdles and finished top three in the state for 300-meter hurdles. Root also headed the first leg of both the 4x1 and the 4x4 relay teams and says he wouldn’t mind doing track in college as well, if his new football coach, Kyle Samson, allows it.
Root noted that the state win means more than a trophy for the school and the athletes, it's also a symbol of pride for the community.
“The best thing about Boulder is everybody kind of knows everybody in the town and you always have the old ladies and stuff coming up to you and like, congratulating you, it’s just an awesome feeling,” said Root.
Hunter Stevens, a "surprise sophomore this year” according to assistant coach Cody Ottman, won the high jump. He cleared 6 feet while placing fifth in the triple jump during his first performance at the Montana state track meet.
“It’s a great feeling, as a sophomore," Stevens said. "I didn’t even go to districts last year so, yeah, it’s just really great.”
Hunter wasn’t the only Stevens out on the track this year for Jefferson High as his younger sister, Hannah, only a freshman, also showed out for the Lady Panthers squad, though they would finish out of the top 10.
“Yeah, having both of us there was pretty cool,” says the eldest Stevens who dabbles in the long jump and the men's hurdles as well.
After struggling as a sophomore, Luke Mest set a new personal record in the 3,200 as well as the 1,600 meters, finishing top two in the state in both of his distance events.
"It feels very good, particularly this year because last year while I made it to state I did not contribute at all. So it feels good to be a big part of this year," said Mest.
Mest was only one second away from breaking the 30-year-old school record in the two mile. He told MTN he's going to be aiming for that time in the future.
"It would mean a lot, it would be an awesome feeling to go down on the record board," he said.
The 2023 Jefferson High Panthers boys track and field team has overcome several hurdles on their way to state champs. Their freshman year was annulled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and unlike other schools, they run on a gravel track in Boulder. But even so, this team won every single state Class B track meet they competed in.
“I don’t know, when we were freshmen, we had the COVID year, and then after that, we just didn’t lose I guess. I think it was the right time for all the athletes to be there together and it was just our time to shine,” said Root. “We got a good thing over in Boulder, especially for track."
While they'll be losing some seniors, the Panthers say they are on the prowl to add a fourth consecutive trophy to their showcase next season.