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Track team ready to stay on top in new league this spring

TRACK PREVIEW - Sandy girls take on the 5A challenge of powerhouse Summit
by: file photo Sandy coach Anouxa Vixathep says the goals are the same for his team at the 5A level — get to state and score as many points as possible.

The Sandy track program is accustomed to success, and the school's trophy case will only get more crowded with this year's shift to the Northwest Oregon Conference and the Class 5A level. The Pioneers have won big-school state titles on the boys and girls side since the turn of the century, and escaping the grasp of the top-flight Mount Hood Conference should allow Sandy to send more qualifiers to Eugene at season's end.

'Our goals have not changed,' Pioneers' coach Anouxa Vixathep said. 'We still want to win our conference and score as much as possible at the state meet.'

The Sandy girls are loaded to do just that after finishing third in the 6A tally last year. The team has been a top-10 finisher each of the last six years.

The Pioneers graduated Courtney Tripp, who is now competing for Northern Arizona University, but the throws crew remains the strength of the team. Junior McKenzie Warren anchors that group after taking second at state in the discus.

'You forget she's only a junior,' Vixathep said. 'She competes through the summer and has a lot of big-meet experience. She steps into the ring and you sense this confidence with her that you don't see in most high school kids.'

Senior Brittany Price and junior Makena Schroder give depth to the unit and are a threat to go 1-2 in the javelin at the NWOC district meet.

The team is also solid on the track with distance runner Caitlin Lewis and sprinter Juanita Birdsong as the big-point athletes. In a league noted for elite distance runners, Lewis emerged as a state qualifier in both the 1,500 and 3,000 races a year ago, while Birdsong was the district runner-up in the 200 and 400.

'We're expecting a lot out of Juanita, but we don't have to run her into the ground every week,' Vixathep said. 'There is enough depth with our sprinters to spread people around the different events.'

The teams biggest unknown comes in the jumps where the team graduated a pair of state scorers in Keree Smith and Katie Pelchar.

Sherwood is the reigning NWOC champs, loaded with a talented bunch of distance runners. The Bowmen return two of their four district champs from 2010.

• The boys team brings in some talented athletes that spent last year learning the sport and are ready to reach the next level this spring. Senior Gannon Schroder leads that group, using his quarterback arm to excel on the javelin runway where he finished fourth at last year's district meet. He is also expected to compete in the long jump and hurdle races.

'He'll be holding down some major spots for us, and we'll keep him busy running between events,' Vixathep said.

Joey Allen is another senior in just his second track season where he will pace the sprint crew. He reached the district finals in the 100-meter dash last year.

'He picked it up real quick,' Vixathep said. 'He's naturally fast, and once we tweak a few things, he will only get faster.'

Noah Forrest and Nick Yungeberg supply depth. Collin Bates leads the distance runners after filling the Sandy's No. 1 spot during the fall cross country season.

St. Helens won last year's NWOC crown, but returns just one of its six district champions.