Track and field preview: On track for tracktown

March 14, 2012

As the HRV track and field team goes through its warm ups on a cold, rainy March Hood River day, they can be fairly sure - if recent history is any guide - at least one of its members will be at or near the top of the medal stand in much sunnier weather at the end of May in Eugene.

The Eagles have had at least one athlete in the top three at state over each of the past five years, including three individual titles in the past two years.

Of the 10 girls HRV sent to state last year, eight will be returning, including pole vault state champ Olivia Campbell.

The boys group will take some work; of the nine competitors the boys sent to state, seven graduated.

When HRV coach Donnie Herneisen looks out at the athletes preparing for the season, he sees a group of boy competitors ready to step in for those that graduated last year, and a girls group which returns one year improved from grabbing so many state spots in 2011.

"Depth-wise, we may not be as good at the top but we are deeper overall," said Herneisen.

That depth may be good enough to get the Eagles an even larger group than they sent to state last year.

Leading the way will be Campbell, looking to defend her state title.

Behind her on the girls team is a group that is a solid mixture of youth, experience and hunger.

Seniors Tracy Mok and Emily Thompson are both coming off state appearances last year, but did not have the season end the way they wanted.

Mok went to Eugene in javelin seeded seventh and wound up 10th. Her first state experience taught her one big lesson: "You can't be nervous," she said.

She has the goal of returning this year, but will have to get past some tough competition from Hermiston throwers to get there.

"I'm going to try to improve," she said. "The (Learning by Doing) clinic really helped last weekend."

Thompson had hoped to go to state in both hurdles competition, but after finishing third in both events at district, went as part of the HRV relay teams.

"I really want to make it back to state in the hurdles," Thompson said. "Watching the hurdles races last year was sad because if I had run the times I had the previous year I would have placed."

Surrounding some of the seniors is a young group of freshmen and sophomores which already has state experience. Anna Schlosser, Zoe Peterson and Georgia Orgain highlight that group.

"Anna really came out of nowhere last year," Herneisen said.

Peterson represents a dual threat for HRV, making state in both the relays and the pole vault last year.

"The hardest part is convincing them all that they are all good enough (to make it to state)," said senior Danae Burck.

The boys side will have to rely on some of its up-and-comers to fill the shoes of the graduated competitors last year, which included 400-meter champ Ian McNaughton.

To do so, Herneisen has expanded partnerships with the football and soccer teams, bringing more athletes into the fold to help stay in shape during the spring.

"It makes us more well-rounded athletes and better at all our sports," said Milo Herman, a track runner and football player who made it to state in the 100- and 200-meters last year as well as the relays.

The Eagle boys have a good chance to get some of those athletes to state in the jumps and throws. Eli Fults and George Jubitz anchor the throws team, while Wyatt Webber and Cole Hunter figure to make an impact in the jumping events.

Erik Guttierez, a state qualifier in the 400-relay returns, and Cesar Rodriguez looks to make his mark after being blocked in the sprints by many of the seniors last year.

"We were so deep in the guys sprints last year, you just never saw him," Herneisen said.

That depth figures to work to the Eagles' advantage this year.

"The stars are not as easy to see this year," Herneisen said. "But that's because the whole group is higher."

Will that mean the Eagles need to book a bigger block of hotel rooms in Eugene in May?

"We certainly hope so," said Herneisen."

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