Track team filling up and since it’s a numbers game, that’s a plus

Scott Swanson

In a jittery year in which not much has been a sure thing, Sweet Home’s track and field program is growing – by the day.

One change for the Huskies is the departure of co-Head Coach Dakotah Keys to eastern Oregon (see accompanying story).

For now-new-sole head coach Nathan Whitfield, though, the numbers are good news.

“We had 24 two days ago,” he said last week. “Now we have 44.”

That’s getting closer to the 60-some that were out a year ago, ready to head off to their first track meet when the coronavirus shutdown hit.

The Husky boys were coming off a fourth-place finish at state and many in the program quietly thought this could be a championship year for Sweet Home.

This would have been the second year Sweet Home would have hosted the Meet of Champions, and at the start of the season Keys said 60 teams had signed up to send their best athletes.

Among the potential leaders on the team last year would have been senior Casey Tow, who blossomed as a decathlete in the summer after his junior year, winning the USATF northwest region decathlon, his third-ever competition in that event. He followed that up with a third-place finish at nationals. Tow skipped football in 2019 to concentrate on his training for track.

He also signed a letter of intent to compete for the U.S. Naval Academy in track, where he is expected to focus on the decathlon.

Tow was expected to provide the Huskies points in the hurdles, the sprints and the jumps, after placing second at state last year in the 400. Sweet Home would also likely have gotten quality points at state from junior Tristan Calkins, who was second at the 2019 state meet in the long jump – competing with an injured hip flexor. Senior Tristan Saultz barely missed a trip to state in the 800, thanks to a scrum final in the 2019 districts, but would have been a threat for more points last year.

On the girls side, there were fewer athletes signed up for track than Keys would have liked, but they included junior Jessy Hart, a state place-winner in the 400, and seniors Torree Hawken (relays) and Katen Edwards (javelin) were also back to lead the 2020 year’s team after qualifying for state the previous year.

Despite that, Keys predicted last March that he expected some individuals to do “very well at state” for the girls, though he acknowledged their numbers were lower than he would like.

The other area where the Huskies needed help last year were freshmen: going into what would have been the start of the 2020 season, Keys said he had six.

That was then, and this is now.

Although those proven contributors are gone, Whitfield has others back who proved themselves as sophomores and freshmen – and he has freshmen. Lots of them.

The good news is that at least a quarter of this year’s team are ninth-graders.

“The number of freshmen this year is actually up quite a bit more than it was last year and we have quite a few out,” Whitfield said. “I just haven’t seen quite what they’ve got. I’m looking forward to working with them.”

Back also are some athletes with experience – big-time experience.

Leading that group are seniors Tristan Caulkins and Jessy Hart.

Caulkins finished second in the state championship long jump competition as a sophomore and finished with a season’s best of 22-3. He was also the Huskies’ leading 200 runner (22.93) and was second in the 100 (11.79).

Whitfield said Caulkins has been doing a lot of lifting and off-season work on his own with jumps coaches, with hopes of moving on to compete in college in that area.

Hart was seventh in the state in the 400, posting a best of 1:00.49 in that event as a sophomore. She also posted times of 50.38 in the 300 hurdles and led the Huskies in the 200 with a best time of 26.84; she was second in the 100 (13.20).

Also back on the track for the boys are senior Gavin Walberg, who was the Huskies third-fastest 800 runner in 2019 (2:09.88), juniors Jorel Leyba – their fastest freshman in the 100 (12.73) and the 200 (26.16), Aiden Shamek and Nathaniel Coleman.

Junior Eddy Martinez-Maya is back after clocking 4:40.89 in the 1500, and 2:18.08 in the 3000 as a freshman.

In the throws, juniors Charley Crawford and Tanner Waldrop both had noteworthy performances as freshman, Crawford throwing 31-10¼ in the shot and 94-2, and Waldrop 105-6 in the discus. Senior Jake Fanning and junior Colby Gazeley could be a force in the field as well.

In the jumps, in addition to Caulkins, junior Paul Amrein returns after clearing 5-6 in the high jump as a freshman.

For the girls, in addition to Hart, senior Shelbey Nichol could be a force in the jumps, after going 32-4 in the triple jump as a sophomore, as well as throwing 31-4½ in the shot.

“She will probably be one of the top ones in the state,” Whitfield said. “In the shotput as well.”

Senior Crystal Wolf was an up-and-comer as a sophomore in 2019, going 14-7¾ in the long jump and pole vaulting 7-0.

The Huskies have newcomer Victoria Ferrioli, a junior transfer from East Linn Christian, who vaulted 7-6 as a freshman and went 13-9 in the long jump, as well as running 29:57 in the 200 and 1:15.61 in the 400.

Hailey Green, a senior who ran 1:04.92 in the 400 as a sophomore, is also returning.

Also back are seniors Natalie Rodgers and Jillian Lynn, who threw the javelin 106-2 and 98-1 as sophomores, and Kailey James, who high jumped 4-8 in 2019, and threw the javelin 87-9½.

Whitfield is being assisted by Randy Whitfield, his father, a longtime throws coach; Ramiro Santana Jr. and Chris Carpenter who handle sprints and jumps, and Ian Wingo and Nichole (Rasmussen) Wingo, who will coach the distance runners.

Rounding out the roster, as of press time, are: Meeja Bitter, Keely Boyd, Angel Cordes, Ivy Dewitte, Brooke Dodge, Zianna Duncan, Iris Erickson, Emily Farthing, Keegan Fox, Hailey Green, Kami Hart, Ethan Hurst, Kailey James, Max Klumph, Tyler Lemmer, Tristan Lemmer, Chance Linn, Chase Lopez, Mason Lopez, Kallie Maas, Wesson Mahr, Rylee Markell, Trace Marler, Andrew Snyder-Thorstad, Ben Tolman and Lydia Wright.

The question will be what kind of shape the Huskies are in.

“It’s hit-or-miss on some,” Whitfield said. “Some of them have a lot of rust and others haven’t really stopped. We’ve got kids, like Tristan Caulkins and Jessy Hart, who have been doing stuff non-stop. They’re pretty much ready to go. Then we’ve got other kids who have just not had those same opportunities to be able to do something.

“It’s just a young team, experience-wise. Even our juniors and seniors only have two years experience. So it’s hard to really judge a whole lot. But we’ll take what we can get.”

The season will be, like it was for fall sports, short, and it will be largely dual meets, Whitfield said.

Whitfield said he’s not sure what to expect from the rest of the Oregon West League.

“Newport, Cascade, Philomath, Sisters, they’re always cranking out great teams, especially on the girls side,” he said. “It’s super competitive.”

The Huskies open Friday, April 16, with a dual against Cascade and will also host at least one more dual meet.

Their only multi-team meet before districts will likely be the Philomath Invitational on May 1.

“We’ll have one big meet, COVID permitting, at Philomath, where it will be most of the league over there, and we’re still waiting to hear the word on districts and state.

“We’re hoping to have districts at Stayton, but we’re still working out the details.”