No hurdle is too tall for Wahluke's Mendoza

May 24, 2012 

Ever since seventh grade, Rafael Mendoza knew he wanted to jump the hurdles.

A long and winding road eventually gave him that opportunity last year as a junior.

Now, with very little experience under his belt, the Wahluke High School senior is headed to the Class 1A State Track and Field Championships in four events.

“I feel a lot of pressure,” he said, “but I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I want to do good, but kind of nervous about four events.”

Mendoza is seeded in the top six in all four events -- the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, the triple jump and the long jump. The Class 1A meet is Friday and Saturday at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.

The 5-foot-11, 155-pound leaper took a three-week track and field camp in seventh grade and found a love for hurdles then, though he didn’t follow up on the event for a few years. As a freshman, he played golf for the Warriors, who are better known for their boys soccer program.

As a sophomore, Mendoza planned to participate in track, but he had to undergo surgery on his nose, knocking him out for the year.

Then he burst onto the scene as a junior, taking fourth in the triple jump and seventh in the 110 hurdles at last year’s state meet.

“I kind of felt like I was fast,” he said. “I would race my friends, but I didn’t really know. I felt like I was just gifted with long legs. I don’t really know, it just happened.”

Mendoza holds the school record in both hurdles events and the triple jump, and is three inches short of the record in the long jump.

He hopes to break that record this weekend.

If he wins a state title, he will be the first Wahluke athlete to do so in track and field. The school had its first graduating class in 1988, and present head track and field coach Jim Murdoch started the program in the spring of 1993.

“Needless to say, it would be exciting,” said Brock Anderson, Wahluke’s jumps coach. “There are two or three other kids in both races that are right there ... I’m just thinking he hasn’t run his best race yet.”

Mendoza not only is juggling a tremendous track and field season, but he also drives 80 miles a day to Pasco. He participates in Running Start at Columbia Basin College and will earn his associate’s degree in June in computer science. He plans on attending Washington State University in the fall.

But first, he has a date with school history in Cheney this weekend.

“I kind of am surprised,” he said of his success, “but after you get to a certain point, you expect it and you want yourself to go even further. You don’t want to stay stationary.”

w Craig Craker: 582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com

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