Friday, April 1, 2011/lk
Last spring there was a clear leader of the pack in the Hood River Valley track team. Lauren Lloyd outraced all the competition over the course of the season and wound up winning the 6A 800 meter title.
This season Lloyd has graduated and the Eagles are hoping another superstar emerges.
There are plenty of candidates to choose from.
"We're looking good," HRV coach Donnie Herneisen said. "Especially on the boys side."
The boys team has the depth and sheer talented numbers to ensure it will likely be sending multiple runners to state, but it's the girls team which has the school's likely best chance for a state title winner this spring.
Olivia Campbell finished third last year in the pole vault as a sophomore at the 6A level with a 12-foot vault. She opened the season at 11 feet at last week's Mullen Leavitt Invitational in The Dalles, which not only bested the top height by any boy in the competition, but is also a foot and half better than any female competitor in 5A at the start of the season.
"I can't wait for the meets to get going," said HRV pole vaulting coach Shawn Meyle. "I'm excited to see what she can do."
Campbell was one of several Eagles who competed through the winter indoor season to prepare for a slimmed-down spring schedule (the state meet is one week earlier this week due to the University of Oregon hosting the NCAA championships) and to get a head start on competition.
Among the others are Ian McNaughton and Yonny Castillo. McNaughton had a breakout season last year as a junior, winning the Mt. Hood Conference 400-meter title while sick with the flu and dropping two seconds off his time over the course of the season.
This year McNaughton is back, healthy and ready to get back to state.
"I got sick right around the time I was peaking last year," said McNaughton, who finished 11th at state but then won the Oregon Elite 400 meter race a week later. "That really pushed me to want to do good."
McNaughton's teammates joke about him being No. 1 "in everything" at the start of the season, and while not quite true, his indoor training has given him a jumpstart on the competition. He is ranked No.1 in the 100 and 200 and No. 3 in the 400.
He already has set career-best marks in the 100 and 200 in the opening weeks of the season and plans to spend the rest of the year focusing on trimming his times further.
"It kind of came out of nowhere," he said of his times from the season opening meets. "Hopefully next week will be even faster."
In addition to Campbell and McNaughton the Eagles return two other state qualifiers this year: Emily Thompson and Angie Titus.
Thompson figures to again be a contender in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. She dropped two seconds off her previous best times in both events last year and finished ninth in the state in both events.
Titus finished sixth in the shot put last year after coming on strong to end the season, including a personal best by 4 feet in the district championships, which she then bested again with a 38-7.75 at state. She will be going head-to-head with another state finalist, Leah Wilson of The Dalles-Wahtonka, who finished second at 5A at state last year. Wilson is currently ranked No.1 at 5A.
"Facing Leah is good," Titus said. "I need a mark to try and beat."
One competitor who didn't make it to state last year is Yonny Castillo. Castillo has been to the state cross country meet three times, but has yet to make it to Eugene for track.
He came close last year, but was tripped up in the 800-meter district finals while running near the front of the pack and wound up finishing last.
This year he badly wants things to be different.
"It's life and it happens," Castillo said of the district race. "I've just been working hard to not put myself in the same situation."
Castillo and other distance runners from HRV, such as Grace Viuhkola and Claire Merriam on the girls team and Aaron Baeza on the boys, have one of the toughest paths to state with all four Columbia River Conference schools having strong distance teams.
And even though they already have one state appearance under their belt this year, seniors like Viuhkola and Castillo have plenty of motivation to get back to you Eugene.
"I need to keep a certain time so I can keep the scholarship I've been offered," Viuhkola said.
The Eagles are loaded with seniors, all of whom have plenty of motivation to make it to state in their last year and Herneisen is making sure his team has its sights set high.
"We are striving for no less than dual district titles," he said. "We are coming for Hermiston."
The Bulldogs are the heavy favorites to win the league, but the Eagles have the manpower to stand up to them.
"We've nearly doubled in size from last year," Herneisen said.
The Eagles have gone from 60 to about 110 competitors this year, and that increase in numbers fleshes out several events.
Several of those runners are from the HRV football team, which Herniesen says works well for both teams, by keeping the football players in shape and giving the track team some skilled athletes.
In the boys 4x100 meter relay the Eagles are sending out a team of Milo Herman, Ryan Bales, McNaughton and Erik Gutierrez, and Herneisen has high hopes for the group.
"They shouldn't just beat the school record; they should destroy it," he said.
Other athletes to watch on the stacked boys side include brother Seth and Eli Fults in throwing events, Dalton Frazier in the long jump, Victor Rodriguez and Sage Deenik, who join Castillo and McNaughton in the 4x400 relay, and Kelby Broddie in the javelin.
On the girls side Marlee Orgain figures to contend in the 100- and 200-meter dash, Arleigh Laney could vie for the No. 2 spot in the league behind Campbell in the pole vault, Tracy Mok is developing in the shot put and Ali Flaming could be one of the top runners in middle distance events.
The top two finishers in each event in the district championship qualify for state, and Herneisen believes his team has the potential to send a busload of athletes to Eugene for the state championships - any one of which could become the Eagles' next state champion.
"I'm just hoping we have enough room reserved in Eugene," he said with a big grin.