STEPHENVILLE — Alex Cooke waited exactly 365 days to erase a memory that was one hundredth of a second in the making.
So when he did, the two hundredths of a second that changed the color of his medal hardly mattered.
“This makes up for last year,” the Salado senior distance runner said. “Making state in track my senior year means everything to me.”
A year after missing out on a state berth in the 3,200 meters by .01 seconds, Cooke obliterated Salado’s school record Friday at the Region II-2A track and field meet, finishing second at Tarleton State’s Memorial Stadium and punching his ticket to the University Interscholastic League state championship May 10-11.
Cooke crossed the line in 9 minutes, 32.65 seconds — only .02 seconds behind gold medalist Evan Arambula of Eustace and well under the previous school record of 9:41. The outcome avenged last year’s two-mile finish at the 3A Region IV meet, where Cooke’s 10:09.08 was nipped for second place by the 10:09.07 of Lytle’s Cesar Gonzalez.
“I was determined not to let that happen again,” Cooke said.
Joining Cooke in qualifying for the 2A state meet were Salado junior Ryan Simmons (discus) and senior Bryce Martin (pole vault).
The Eagles grabbed the lead in the team standings through four events Friday with a gold medal performance from Simmons and runner-up finishes from Cooke and Martin.
Simmons — frustrated in the morning by gusty conditions — uncorked a heave of 169 feet, 9 inches on his final attempt.
“I told myself, ‘I don’t care what the conditions are. I’m going to get a decent throw,’” said Simmons, who will compete in the shot put today. “I just got mad at it on the last one.”
Martin, Cameron Yoe’s Colton Labay and Tolar’s Rodie Brister were the only vaulters to clear 14 feet. When nobody got over the bar at 14-3, Labay settled for the bronze based on misses, and Martin took the silver when Brister won a jump-off.
Salado’s Rachel Hildebrand finished fifth in the discus, and junior Ashley Adams finished fourth in the 3,200.
Arambula and Cooke took all drama out of the equation, turning it into a two-man race for the final 2,300 meters.
About 40 meters from the start of the bell lap, Cooke made his move as the duo kicked past lapped runners along the back stretch and final curve before turning for home.
Arambula moved past Cooke on the outside with 60 meters to go. Cooke pulled even five strides from the finish, and both runners leaned for the line with Arambula getting the edge.
“As I’m coming down the stretch on the sprint, I thought, ‘Not again. Not another race decided at the line.’ It was crazy,” Cooke said. “I remember how painful last year was. But I guess I had to go through that to be in this situation.”
After last year’s disappointment, a silver medal felt as good as gold. Besides, Cooke still has a chance to pay back Arambula today in the 1,600.
“I tried to control the last lap. He had led the whole race, so I thought his will might be a little smashed if I just started going,” Cooke said. “He hung in there really well, though. Maybe I’ll get him in the 1,600.”