The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Huskies look to cash in on experience, talent in track and field campaign


March 13, 2019

TRACK AND FIELD SPRINTERS AND JUMPERS include, in front, from left, Ryan Tyndall, Savannah Turner, Hailey Green, Crystal Wolf, Meagan Baham, Annie Kennedy, Aiyana Alford-Grimes and Hannah Powell. In the second row, from left, are Jorel Leyba, Jarrett Owen, Zoe James, Torree Hawken, Shelbey Nichol, Malia Hewitt, Kate Hawken and Alexander Springer. In the rear, from left, are Jonoah Williams, Vince Drake, Bradley Wolthuis, Noah Dinsfriend, Lance Hanson, Casey Tow and Aiden Shamek.

Having seen his track and field teams spend nearly all of the last two weeks under cover due to the snowy weather, Head Coach Dakotah Keys will be as interested as anyone in what takes place when the Huskies open their season March 13 at the Saxon Icebreaker at South Salem.

Keys, who is starting his third season at the helm, has roughly 70 athletes on his roster, similar to last year, he said. His assistants, as of last week, included veteran coaches Ramiro Santana and Randy Whitfield, along with Emmy Collier, Kait- lyn Watts, Nathan Whitfield and Chris Carpenter.

The veterans don't stop with the coaching staff, though.

The Huskies roster includes "a lot of really good experience" and athletes who showed up in shape, Keys noted.

"The kids came in pretty good from winter sports," he said.

Now the question is how they do this spring.

On the boys side, Sweet Home returns eight boys and seven girls who placed sixth or above in at least one event in last year's district meet.

Among them are two boys who qualified for state in individual events: senior Noah Dinsfriend, who placed third at state in the 300 hurdles; and senior Lance Hanson in the triple jump.

The only girl who placed at state last year in an individual event was Bethany Gingerich, now a freshman competing for George Fox University, who was state champion in the 300 hurdles and second in the 100 hurdles.

Also qualifying, but not coming away with medals, was Megan Hager, who won the district championship in both the shot and the discus.

Both the boys and girls had some near-misses on state. Jessy Hart was third in the 400 and Shelbey Nichol was third in the shot at districts, missing an automatic state slot by one place, both as freshmen.

On the boys side, Dinsfriend was third in the 110 high hurdles, current senior Jake Swanson was third in the javelin and current junior Casey Tow was third in the 800.

With Gingerich and four boys missing from last year's relay teams, all of which qualified for state, a big challenge this year will be finding athletes for those events, Keys said. Senior Kate Hawken and junior Zoe James return from both girls relays and should contribute in the sprints, along with Hart.

"The biggest point, actually, is going to be finding boys team relay runners. Last year it was the girls.

We have a good group of freshman boys. They're eager to learn. We have a few kids who I think could step up to the plate and take some of those spots. It's really refreshing to see."

Hager will be a big force for the girls in the throws after leading the girls swim team to an upset victory at the state championships a few weeks ago.

"She's gotten stronger," Keys said. "She's returned with confidence from swimming."

The throws could be a strength, he said, with an influx of "wrestlers and football players."

"They have really good body awareness and they're strong."

Former Husky Kaitlyn Watts and former college thrower Emmy Collier are assisting with the throws.

"Both have college experience," Keys said. "I think they both believe in what we're trying to accomplish in our track program."

He said the Huskies have been emphasizing time in the weight room.

"Every sport has its conditioning. You can build strength, confidence, speed, power and longevity."

In addition to Hager, junior Katen Edwards returns in the javelin after a fourth-place finish in the district meet last year, along with junior Hannah Powell, who was sixth, and now-sophomore Natalie Rodgers, who was seventh.

On the boys side, Tow finished fourth in the javelin and senior Noah Moore is back after finishing fifth in both the shot and the javelin.

"Our javelin is extremely deep, really good," Keys said.

The sprints and jumps are largely a question mark at this point, Keys said.

Senior Hayden Nichol, a district placer in the 200 and the shot, isn't on the roster after suffering a serious knee injury in football last year.

"We're trying to fill some gaps."

He said Tow will likely start out in some sprint events.

"His 800 time ( 2:01:14) puts him first in the district right now, but we're going to put him in the hurdles and see what he can do."

Hanson was sixth in the 300 hurdles last year at district, as well as scoring in the jumps.

Senior Brad Wolthuis returns after placing sixth in the pole vault and sophomore Tristan Calkins returns after a sixth-place district finish in the long jump, 19-9¼ – the second-best jump by a 4A last year.

In the girls 400, James was sixth at districts last year behind Hart, and Nichol was sixth in the triple jump.

James was ninth in the high jump at districts at 4-6, but she had gone 4-10 earlier in the season.

Keys, a former cross-country runner for the Huskies before going on to star in the decathlon at the University of Oregon, is handling the distance runners this year and said he has some talent – an a lot of dedication – to work with.

Junior Tristan Saultz, in particular, established himself as an up-and-coming distance specialist during cross-country last fall after placing seventh in the 800 at last year's districts.

"Tristan Saultz has put in so much work in the distances," Keys said. "He's going to run the 800- and the 1500 and maybe the 4x4."

On the girls side, sophomore Brenna Boyd also returns after placing sixth in the 1500 last year, but who didn't compete in cross-country.

Keys said he is training the distance runners a little differently this year than they are used to, "with a lot more over-distance training and more emphasis on track-style workouts."

"It's a learning experience for me," he said. "It's a different experience for the kids. Overall, the kids are putting in a lot of hard work."

That seems to be the general theme for the entire team.

Also on the roster for the boys, as of Friday, March 8, were: seniors Mason Hook, Parker Lemmer, Austin Sills and Robbie Yunke; juniors Sevin Carson, Marc Kanngiesser, Jarrett Owen and Eric Roddy; sophomores Jaren Adams, Jesse Burford, Hunter Calderwood, Tristan Calkins, Vince Drake, Keegan Fox, O'Rian Offutt, Aiden Shamek and Gavin Walberg; and freshmen Nathaniel Coleman, Charles Crawford, Gregory Farrell, Colby Gazeley, Jacob Kennedy, Tyler Lemmer, Tristan Lemmer, Jorel Leyba, Alexander Springer, Tanner Waldrop and Kyle Watkins.

On the girls roster, as of Friday, were seniors Christina Belcher, Madelyn Neuschwander and Kennedi Waldrop; juniors Torree Hawken, Annie Kennedy, Annaleea Shuttlesworth and Kirsten Watkins; sophomores Hailey Green, Sarah Hackworth, Summer Hicks, Jillian Lynn, Sicily Neuschwander and Crystal Wolf; and freshmen Aiyana Alford-Grimes, Meagan Baham, Mercedes Burks, Brooke Dodge, Malia Hewitt, Jessica Maynard and Savannah Turner.

"We're two weeks into the season and I'm still trying to learn everybody," Keys said. "We have a good group of freshmen in who are eager to learn. They're pretty talented and they came in with a pretty good base.

"They're excited to work. Not everybody likes to get sore, but these kids are trusting the process."

Keys said he is emphasizing goal-setting, having his athletes set and meet short-term, achievable goals.

"Weightlifting, technical drills, warmups – we want them to accomplish something every day," he said. "That correlates in every sport. It allows them to have that storage of confidence that they can go back to."

Moving to the Oregon West League will be good for the Huskies, Keys predicted. Other than Sisters, which has moved along with Sweet Home from the Sky-Em League, the competition is going to be pretty much fresh.

"I think it's a good way for kids to kind of have a change of pace," he said. "After a while, being in the same league gets stagnant. You're competing against the same people all the time."

A big change this year is the schedule.

The Huskies will open the season with a couple of relatively low-pressure meets, at South Salem Wednesday, March 13, and at the Regis Coed Relays on March 21, the latter featuring a non-standard line-up of events.

They travel to Coos Bay April 13 for the Prefontaine Rotary Invitational, which at last count had 34 teams from Oregon and California in the line-up, and will visit Sisters twice, once for a dual and again for the district meet, thanks to the league switch, after competing there last year in the Sky-Em districts.

Due to renovation construction work at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, which is normally the site of the state meet, this year's championships for the 4A and 3A divisions will be held at Mt. Hood Community College May 17-18. Class 2A and 1A will be at Western Oregon University in Monmouth that same weekend, and Classes 6A and 5A will be at Mt. Hood May 24-25.

The biggest change this year for Sweet Home, though, is the Meet of Champions. The Huskies will host it Saturday, April 27.

Keys said the longtime venue, Willamette University, has become increasingly difficult to schedule and there were also cost issues.

He and coaches at Cascade, which have co-hosted the meet for years with Sweet Home, agreed to move it to Sweet Home.

Keys said it will be an opportunity for the community in many ways, including simply supporting Sweet Home athletes.

The meet is one of the biggest on the schedule for the four lower divisions in the state, and as of Friday, March 8, 42 teams were committed to send athletes, who must meet qualifying standards to compete.

TRACK AND FIELD THROWERS include, in front, from left, Annaleea Shuttlesworth, Natalie Rodgers, Shelbey Nichol, Parker Lemmer, Brooke Dodge, Kirsten Watkins, Hannah Powell and Vince Drake. In the second row, from left, are Greg Farrell, Jacob Kennedy, Megan Hager, Charles Crawford, Hunter Calderwood, Noah Moore and Marc Kanngiesser. In the rear, from left, are Keegan Fox, Colby Gazeley, Hayden Nichol, Jake Swanson, Jesse Burford, Jake Fanning, Sevin Carson and Casey Tow.

"Kids from all across the state will be here," Keys said. "We have more teams signed up this year than last year. It will be a great opportunity for the community to come out and support their athletes."

Keys said a new shot facility will be complete by the time the meet arrives and he also plans to renovate the long jump pits as part of an effort to bring the track and field facilities up to the standard set by the artificial turf field installed by the football program.

"We want to finish it off, put in the stuff to make it a top-notch facility to represent Sweet Home," he said.

Keys said he has been upgrading equipment, bit by bit. The program has new high jump mats and last year he replaced medicine balls that were essentially old basketballs that had been cut open, filled with sand, and taped shut.

"The kids were excited," he said, noting that better equipment encourages them to "do drills correctly."

This year, he said, old jump ropes were replaced with speed ropes.

"It's going to be a good year," he said. "I'm just hoping with this (Meet of Champions) the kids can see that support from the community."


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