Husky boys aim to defend track title; girls look stronger

A year after winning Sweet Home’s first boys track and field state title, the Huskies are back on the field looking to defend their 2008 district championship.

Coach Billy Snow says they have to focus on first things first, hence the lack of bold predictions about anything.

“Our goal on the guys side is to go back and win districts,” he said. “If we go after anything further out, we’re chasing the wrong thing. We’ve got to get it done at districts before we can do anything else.”

That said, both the boys and girls look competitive this year, a marked improvement for the girls over last year, when they finished the season with 24 athletes. So far this year, they have 35.

“We don’t have quite the depth we want on the girls side, but we’re looking a whole lot better than last year,” Snow said.

The team, as a whole, is “pretty inexperienced,” he said, with more than a third of the athletes never having participated in a high school track meet.

“There’s definitely some talent out there,” Snow said. “It’s our job to get these kids working and we have to figure out where their strengths lie and get them as good as we can before the district meet.”

The Boys

Some big guns are missing for the boys with the graduations of Brandon Elliott and Land Florek, who were key players in the relays for the Huskies last year, teams that set a school record in the long relay (3:26.99) and missed the school 4×100 record by three-tenths of a second.

But back this season are “a good core” of runners with speed, Snow said, including senior middle distance specialist Rob Callagan, sophomores Alex Santana and Tim McDowell, who, along with senior Sam Macklin, should provide a solid base for building new short and long relay teams this year.

Snow said there is also some new talent, including transfer Alex Coakley from East Linn Christian Academy, who ran 12.55 as a freshman in the 100.

“He’ll be a good one,” Snow said. “He’s smart athletically and he works hard.”

Macklin finished second in the district in the 100 meters last year and fourth in the 200, while Santana was second in the 400 (behind Florek) and Callagan won the 800.

Snow said he expects to be able to put together a short relay team that could challenge last year’s district champ, Central.

He said the long relay, in which the Huskies set a school record last year with Florek, Alex Santana, Ramiro Santana and Callagan, is a little more of a puzzle with two of the pieces gone from last year’s team, though the team did not lose any time when Dakotah Keys was running a leg.

“The long relay is a little bit of an unknown,” he said. “We’ll have to feel our way through the year. Keys is back, Robbie and Alex. Who could we add to it? A sprinter or a distance kid with speed? There are a number of kids we can take look at. That’s always a big one for us.”

Other sprinters and hurdlers, as of last week, included Bret Adams, Jesse Baugus, Austin Dishaw, Erik Garcia, Nick Hall, Sean Potter, Mykle Riggle, Kyron Spears, Chris Carpenter, Sam Macklin, Tim McDowell, James Myers, Donnie O’Brien, Dakota Snow, Michael Dropla, Alex Howard, Alex Armstrong, Donaven Rockstead, Jake Comstock, Casey Keys and Zach Jackson.

Dakotah Keys, who won one state title and placed second in three other events in leading the Huskies to the team championship, will be a big key this year to the team’s success at the championship level. Keys, who also won the junior national championship in the decathlon, could score significant points for Sweet Home in all but the short sprints, the weights and distance events if all goes well.

His specialties are the long jump, in which he won a state championship, the javelin, in which he placed second in state last year, the pole vault and the two hurdles races. Snow said he has some other prospects in the hurdles as well.

Senior Marc Callagan is back to lead the Huskies in the weight events, after finishing second in the district in the shot last year and third in the discus.

Other throwers include Michael Dropla, Alex Howard, Alex Armstrong, Donaven Rockstead, John Connely, Clint Doles, Ken Davis, Stacey Fisher, Mitchell Garcia, Kyle Holmes, Josh Liskey, John Markert, Zack McClure, Ethan Rowe, Brandon Sparhawk, John Ward, Nick Whitmore, Jacob Miner and Zach Jackson.

In the pole vault, Snow sees senior Nikki Smith and junior James Myers as solid contributors in addition to Keys, who is the top vaulter in the league on paper. Both PR’d, at 11 and 10-6 respectively, at districts and have worked on their own during the off-season.

Keys will likely lead the team in the long jump, when he competes in that event, and McDowell is a likely points contributor in the high jump, in which he qualified for state as a freshman, and the triple jump. Coakley is another prospect after jumping 19-00 in the Tri Rivers District Meet last year as a freshman.

Other members of the jump crew include Chad Linville, Patrick Long, Cody Mabe, Dustin Collman, Chris Carpenter, Sam Macklin, Donnie O’Brien, Dakota Snow, Michael Dropla, Alex Howard, Jake Comstock, Casey Keys, and Jacob Miner.

Back in the distances are Rob Callagan and Byron Sanders.

“Robbie and Byron will be the leaders on the guys side,” Snow said, adding that he will have a better idea of where the Huskies stand in the distances in a few weeks.

Other distance runners for the boys are Larz Cross, Anson Davis, Matthew Long, Blake Roberts, Joe Stroud, Chris Thompson, John Trahan, Chad Linville, Patrick Long and Cody Mabe.

On the boys side, Snow predicts that the Huskies, Central and Philomath will be the teams vying for the district title at the end of the season.

“I think we’re heads and tails above the other two teams (Newport and Taft),” he said. “I know Central has some pretty big guns, but I think we could probably match them step for step. I think we could outmatch them with depth.”

Philomath has lost graduated senior Brian Schaudt, who was the district champ in the triple jump and discus and finished second behind Keys in the long jump last year. The Warriors also lost two of the top five district placers in the pole vault, Nick Schatz and Ian Gregg, to graduation, “but I wouldn’t count them out,” Snow said.

The Girls

The Huskies were thin in nearly every event last year, finishing fourth at districts, but with a third more athletes, they should be able to be more competitive, Snow said.

Last year the girls were thin in the sprints, in the hurdles and in the jumps, though Maria Kropf won the long jump at district and placed third at state in the event, setting a school record of 17 feet, 1 3/4 inches.

Kropf, a sophomore, is back in the sprints and the long jump after also taking third in the state last year in the 100 and winning that event at district.

Snow said he has “a larger sprint crew” on the girls side as well as the boys this year, which he believes will help the Huskies be more competitive in the relays €“€¯an area in which they lacked last season.

“I think we will be able to put together some pretty competitive girls relays, though I’m not sure about the long relay,” he said. “We have two seniors on the girls team. I see a lot of nines and 10s when I look at grades on our roster. We’re young, but we have experience. Some of new kids have experience in junior high track or have been on varsity in another high school sport.”

One example is freshman Jessika Stewart, who was fifth in the long jump (15-6) and seventh in the 200 after running 26.66 at the regional Junior Olympics meet last summer. Sophomore Kaitlin Keenon is also expected to contribute in the high jump and pole vault.

“We’ll be pretty solid in the jumps, especially the long jump,” Snow said. “I think we will have three girls over the opening height in the pole vault and that’ll be the first time in a long time.”

He said he still could use more jumpers.

“On the girls side, if we can get one more girl in the high jump, that would be more than we’ve had in the last three or four years.”

Other sprinters and/or jumpers for the girls include Anne Miller, Natasha Perry, Jessica Snow, Dawnita Justham, Kelika Kaniaupio, Kaitlin Keenon, Maria Kropf, Devyn Makin, Brandi Trewin, Haley Voldbaek, Brianna Wirth, Annie Whitfield, Laura Mauer and Caroline Amendola.

In the distances, Snow said he has a young but veteran crew in sophomore Olivia Johnson, who won the district championship in cross-country last fall, and junior Jill Mahler and sophomore Carissa Swanson.

“All those distance kids are very competitive within our league,” he said.

Middle distance and distance runners for the girls include Caroline Amendola, Mandy Binks, Krista Collman, Jenna Kistner, Breanna Thompson, Christina Ulmer and Sami Webb.

In the throws, Sweet Home is a little thinner than usual in experienced throwers, with the graduation of Tee Whaley and Ashley Danielson. Whaley finished second in the shot and third in the discus at districts and Danielson was second in the javelin.

But sophomore Josie David, who placed fifth in the javelin and eighth in the shot at districts, is expected to be one of the leaders this year and there is young talent in the wings, Snow said.

“We’ve got some girls who I think will make pretty good throwers,” he said.

Throwers include Annie Whitfield, Laura Maurer, Kate Anderson, Kishya Davis, Hailey Fisher, Chancey Fuesler, Reanna Thompson and Gabriella Valdez.

As far as competition within the league is concerned, Snow said he expects defending district champion Philomath to be the team to beat.

The Warriors are “stacked with speed,” he said. “Virtually all their girls are back from last year. They’ve got to be the odds-on favorite.”

Central, which came out of nowhere to win its first-ever district cross-country title last fall, is a question mark for Snow because he’s not sure how many of those runners will be in track.

“Central will be solid on the girls side, as well as Newport,” he said. “I think they will be pretty strong.”

But this year Snow expects his girls to be a factor in the district race.

“I think our girls can make a significant gain in all that,” he said. “If we can develop some depth, our top girls can maintain step with anybody in the league.”

The schedule this year will be different than recent seasons because the state meet has been moved up due to conflicting events at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, where the state meet is held. That means the Huskies won’t be visiting Pleasant Hill early in the season and may have a limited number of athletes at the Stayton Twilight Meet, which occurs during May Week at Sweet Home. Also, the Meet of Champions, an invitational at Willamette University, will be held two weeks early.

Snow has scheduled a meet with Lebanon and Corvallis, which will give some of the more advanced athletes a tougher test midway through the season this year, and he also plans to take some to Centennial, a meet that will feature some of the state’s top competitors.

The Huskies open their season at home at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 19, in a “low-key” non-scoring meet with Cascade, North Marion and 5A North Salem.