The road to the state championships is never an easy one. Injuries, adjustments with event participation and district realignment can all be important factors on a team’s ultimate quest to hang a new banner from the gymnasium rafters.
The Philomath High School girls enter this track and field season with high expectations. The Warriors finished third in last year’s 4A meet just 7.5 points behind state champion Marshfield. And Philomath lost only one athlete who scored points at state last season to graduation.
Junior Maggie Ross represents a major force when it comes to piling up points for the girls. Ross placed second in both the 100 and 200 and ran the anchor leg on the state-winning 4-by-100 relay last spring in Eugene.
“She’s one of the best athletes in the state and she is so fit and ready to go, she’s just champing at the bit,” said PHS coach Joe Fulton, who has been working with Philomath athletes since 1981 and has been the head coach since 1995. “She was so excited just for our time trials and just wants to race. She’s definitely one of the top two or three sprinters in the state so she’s our big money athletes. She’s going to score points.”
Despite most of those athletes coming back, Fulton knows that the challenge of finishing among the state’s best could be a greater challenge this season.
“We do have a few things going against us that’s going to make it a little more difficult to win it all this year,” Fulton said. “One is the expansion of our league because now, we have 21 kids fighting for two spots in a very strong league and then there are other leagues with far less than that so it’s going to be harder for our kids to advance to state even if they’re the type of kid that might place at state.”
And another factor that comes into play?
“The second thing is Marist has been added to 4A,” Fulton said about that school’s dropping down a classification. “Marist was a powerful 5A program and so that’ll be a team we’ll have to overcome.”
Philomath also has a challenge within its own roster as the season gets ready to start. Sophomore Phaedra Hinds-Cook, the Warriors’ leadoff runner on last year’s state champion 4-by-100-meter relay and No. 2 sprinter, has been lost for the season because of a torn ACL that she suffered during basketball season. The other three runners on the relay are back with sophomore Melia Morton, junior Hannah Bovbjerg and Ross.
“Replacing her is a real challenge but we think we have it figured out,” Fulton said. “We’re planning to try Alivia Pittman in her spot on the 4-by-100 and then move Maggie Ross into the 4-by-400. So Maggie would run both relays plus the 100 and 200.”
Moving Ross to the second relay means she would likely not be competing in the long jump with athletes limited to four events in a meet.
Morton and Bovbjerg give Philomath a lot of firepower in the 400. Pittman, a sophomore, is exceptional in the hurdles.
“We have somebody solid in every single running event and both relays,” Fulton said.
Distance runners Hannah Hernandez and Madison Bushnell, both juniors, will be looking to return to state.
“We’ve got kids that could go to state in all three distance events,” Fulton said, referring to the 800, 1,500 and 3,000. “We’re looking strong in the throws this year, too.”
Senior Sadiemay Gullberg returns in the discus and shot put and senior Sara Bradley has high potential in the javelin. Fulton said a couple of younger throwers could also step into prominent roles with sophomore Mia Rust and freshman Marlee Heiken.
Philomath’s biggest challenges appear to be in the jumps heading into the season. Pole vaulter Lily Bogard graduated but the Warriors have sophomore Mackenzie Beddingfield back. Bovbjerg was a state qualifier last season in the high jump and Morton shows promise in the long jump. Sophomore Ari Manning has shown she has all the tools for success as a jumper.
Philomath’s boys enter the season with a lot more question marks than their female counterparts. The Warriors’ lineup will feature a lot of newcomers.
“We’ve got a big turnout for the boys, but a lot of them are out for track for the first time,” Fulton said. “We do have some events where we should be quite good.”
The pole vault immediately comes to mind with senior Connor Kutzler back. Another senior, Jeremy Schaffer, also shows the potential to earn a trip to state with both being 13-foot jumpers.
Senior Kane Rust returns in the shot put and discus and sophomore Jaden Williams could be a real factor in the javelin. Fulton has several other new athletes that have shown potential in practice, including Andrew Mecham in the sprints.
In the triple jump, senior Seth Staten has made real progress, Fulton said, by consistently going over 40 feet. Junior Trevin Del Nero will contribute in both hurdle events and on relays.
“We have a bunch of decent distance runners but that’s probably the hardest area in our league — boys distance running,” Fulton said. “We must have the strongest league in the state with Newport, Stayton and Sisters, they’ve all got excellent distance runners and there’s a good runner up at Woodburn, too.”
Junior Brody Gerig and sophomore Grant Hellesto look good in the long distances with sophomore Levi Knutson and sophomore Justin Enghauser will be competitive in the 800.
In all, there are 40 boys out for track with 16 alone from the sophomore class.
“We’ll be missing a few kids in our first few meets for various reasons,” Fulton said. “We probably won’t get a good idea of how strong we are until mid-April.”
The Warriors open the season Wednesday with a trip up to the Stayton Relays. Then on Saturday, the team will compete at the Junction City Invitational, a meet that limits schools to three athletes in each event. This coming Tuesday, Philomath will go to Newport for a meet with the Cubs, Woodburn and Stayton.
Philomath will not host a meet again this season because of concerns with its field. However, a plan is in the works to move most of the field events to the Clemens Field infield. Just last week, those involved were meeting to configure how it would all be set up.
This season’s district meet will be staged May 9 and 11 at Sisters and with the Hayward Field renovation going on in Eugene, the state meet (for classes 3A through 6A) will be moved to Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.