Track looks to fill big gaps

Scott Swanson

Coming off three straight boys track and field state championships, the question this year is whether Sweet Home can repeat.

But that’s not the question Coach Billy Snow is focusing on after two weeks of practice. He’s just looking for athletes to step up and fill the holes left by last year’s graduates – the most notable of whom was Dakotah Keys, who is now competing in the decathlon for the University of Oregon.

Also gone are Jake Comstock and Sean Potter, both of whom scored points for the boys at state, and Jessie Snow for the girls.

The good news is that a lot of experience is coming back, including boys and girls who scored points at state, where the girls placed third last year and fourth the year before.

The Huskies have numbers – about 90 athletes out right now, which is comparable to last year’s team.

“That’s a good number,” Snow said. “Some of the new kids are going to step up and fill some of those holes. Some of the JV kids from last year and some of the younger kids are going to come on and be able to do something, have that desire.

“We need to find the kids. Not the top kids, but the fourth- or fifth-placers.”

The Boys

The question for the boys will be whether enough of them can step up to produce points lost by the graduation of Keys, who won eight individual state titles for the Huskies in three years and had two second-place finishes to boot.

Back this year for the boys are a core group of juniors and seniors who all have state experience: junior Chris Carpenter (sprints), senior Alex Coakley (sprints), junior Nick Hall (sprints, middle distance, hurdles), senior Zach Jackson (throws), senior Keenon Martin (sprints, throws) and senior Alex Santana (sprints). Hall and Santana, who has been injured the last two years and missed state, are proven point scorers if healthy.

Also back are others who, though they haven’t qualified for state, came close last year, scored points at the district meet, and have proved they belong in big meets: sophomore Daniel Danforth (distances), senior Kyle Hummer (distance), sophomore Jake Johnson (throws), sophomore Brett King (distance), senior Patrick Long (throws), senior Taylor Mauch (jumps), junior Dakota Snow (hurdles) and junior Lorenzo Virgen (distance).

“I like who we have on the guys side,” Snow said. “Some of these guys did pretty good work during the off season.”

The big question is how much speed the Huskies have.

“In track and field, you’ve gotta have that speed. Everything is built around speed,” Snow said. “I don’t know if we have enough, but we’ll see. If you’ve got six guys who can run 12 seconds (in the 100 meters), there’s so much you can do.”

Also out for track, as of Monday, among the boys are: Elric Benson, Steven Bishop, Ryan Blackwell, Caleb Castle, RJ Frederick, Harvir Grewel, Travis Hult, Chace Hutchins, Zane Jackson, David Johnson, Spencer Knight, Alex Larsen, Kyle Lewis, Matthew Long, John Markert, Zach McClure, Michael Moser, Angel Negron, Wade Paulus, Zach Pratt, Tony Ramirez, Evan Ray, Jacob Richardson, Mykle Riggle, Donald Rinehart, Kyle Rose, David Skeen, Scottie Stockman, Joe Stroud, Ashton Stutzman, Ben Terry, Ricky Tressel, Troy Underwood, Justin Webb, Sorin White, Ian Wingo, Quin Wise, Kyle Wodtli and Parke Young.

The Girls

As with the boys, Snow says he has “a good core group of girls.”

The question is whether the Huskies have enough depth to take them farther than in previous years.

“What’s killed us in the last few years is depth,” Snow said. “We’ve got to have those fourth, fifth and sixth places. At the top, we’re good. But we’ve got to have that depth.

“What I think will happen on the girls side is they can be a team to reckon with.”

At the top is senior Maria Kropf, who has won five individual state titles in the 100, 100 hurdles and long jump, and has been the anchor on two straight state championship 4×100 relay teams.

“Maria is the linchpin,” Snow said.

In addition to Kropf, there are seven others who have state meet experience, either as competitors or back-ups: sophomore Sabrina Davis (sprints), senior Kaitlin Keenon (sprints, pole vault, jumps), junior Devyn Makin (sprints, jumps, hurdles), junior Jessika Stewart (sprints), senior Carissa Swanson (distance), junior Brandi Trewin (high jump) and junior Annie Whitfield (sprints, javelin).

Once again it looks like the Huskies will be strong in the speed events. Though Jessica Snow is gone, two others of last year’s championship 4×100 relay team are back – Stewart and Whitfield, along with Makin, who ran on the relay in 2009 but was injured last year at state. Davis and Keenon have both served as alternates for the team.

Whitfield, the school record holder in the javelin, placed second at last year’s state meet in that event behind Cottage Grove senior Jordan Brunetti, now at Lane Community College, and Trewin placed ninth to just miss a medal in the high jump at state.

What may be different this year is the Huskies’ depth in the distance events. Sweet Home hasn’t been as strong in the distances in recent years, though Swanson placed sixth at state in both the 3000 and the 1500. But Snow said that may change this year. Swanson is back, but so is senior Olivia Johnson, who is a three-time district champion in cross-country but barely missed out on a state berth last year in the distance events because she was running with what coaches worried at the time was a developing stress fracture.

Snow said that this could be Johnson’s year after blowing away the field in last fall’s district cross-country meet, in which she, freshman Nicole Rasmussen and Swanson swept the top three places.

“There’s not another girl in (district) track who could touch her (in the 3000),” Snow said. “She’s a whole different girl this year. We’ve never seen that side of her in track.”

Rasmussen, also, could be a factor at the end of the season, after moving up to the front as the cross-country season progressed.

Billy Snow said it will be interesting to see what happens with the 4×400 relay team this year, though Jessica Snow, last year’s top 400 runner, is gone.

“Carissa can run a solid 400 and Sabrina will be stronger,” he said. “We’ll just have to find some kids. Most of our sprint crew are not 400 runners.”

Rounding out the girls team, as of Monday, are Caroline Amendola, Emily Claborn, Macy Cockrell, Jade Corliss, Sonya Corliss, Crystal Crites, Kayla Daniels, Josie David, Brittany Davies, Chancey Fuesler, Sadie Gordon, Jordanna Harvey, Sarah Hawkins, Rachel Jones, Kelika Kaniaupio, Courtney Kent, Kaitlyn Long, Laura Mauer, Tiffany Miller, Rozaliya Minigulova, Tashana Mithen, Chloe Muir, Faith Parrish, Peyton Plebuch, Alejandra Ramirez, Taylar Rodgers, Paige Sanders, Sequoia Stroup, Taiza Tagen, Christina Ulmer, Kaitlyn Watts and Sami Webb.

Snow said that the increased participation in the junior high track program last year will likely have a positive impact on the high school team, but it may take a year or two.

“I think we’ll start seeing a turnaround,” he said. “It will take a while with what Lela’s (Danforth) doing down there. She had 130 kids sign up and that gets back to the days when I first came here and they had 100 kids on their team.

“It’s really a numbers game at that point. Find the numbers and out of that will come quality and depth.”

The League

Snow said he expects the biggest competition in the Sky-Em League race to come from Cottage Grove and Sisters for both the boys and the girls.

“This is a good track league,” he said. “Even the schools that are not traditionally good in track are good. LaPine and Elmira put quality kids out there. Sisters always comes up with a lot of speed and they’ve got some good field people, particularly in the vault and the high jump. Cottage Grove has a lot of basketball and football kids who are good runners and they’ve got some good distance runners.”

Returnees with state experience from around the league on the boys side are Cottage Grove senior Dustin Hurd (sprints) and junior Austin Pace (800), Sisters senior Taylor Steele (distances) and junior Jeff Wilder (sprints), LaPine sophomore Colton George (hurdles) and junior Deion Mock (pole vault), and Junction City senior Brandon Nash (high jump). On the girls side are Cottage Grove junior Jasmione Klein (hurdles), senior Elizabeth Nordella (hurdles) and senior Hollie Arnold (pole vault), Sisters senior Hayley Palmer (sprints), junior Jodie Reoch (sprints), and junior Sara Small (pole vault).

The Schedule

Snow, not normally one to complain loudly, is outspoken in his distaste for this year’s schedule, which is two weeks shorter than normal, thanks to OSAA dictates that cut a week off the front and the fact that, due to the NCAA championships meet, the state meet at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon is being moved up a week from the end of May.

“OSAA cut everybody back,” Snow said. “We’ll have 12 practices going into Meet No. 1. In just about every one of those practices it’s been raining. That’s made it real hard for the high jumpers and pole vaulters. That’s kind of been bit of a struggle.”

Then there’s the problem of the split-day district meet. The Huskies will travel to Sisters on Thursday, May 12, for preliminaries, then will be back at Sisters for the finals on Saturday, May 14.

Another problem, he says, is that the Sky-Em League teams compete way too much against each other – right from the first meet, in which the Huskies visit Elmira at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, instead of hosting Cascade and North Salem in a friendly meet, as they have in recent years.

“I don’t like it,” Snow said. “Whenever I can get all the coaches together, we need to make a switch. It’s terrible. We see each other enough.”

Other than the Meet of Champions, the Junction City Invitational and a friendly meet at South Albany, “we’re basically seeing the same people all the time,” he said.

“It’s kind of a boring schedule.”