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Powerful pack of state qualifiers lead Bruins on the track

MHC BOYS TRACK - Barlow is a heavy favorite to win this year's Mount Hood crown
by: David Ball, Barlow senior Kevin Cook is one of three returning members from last year's runner-up 400-meter relay that took second at the state meet.

The Mount Hood Conference promises to bring some of the state's top talent to Eugene for the Class 6A championship meet at the end of May with Barlow entertaining hopes of bringing home a state trophy.

The Bruins return a handful of state finalists making them the front-runners for the league title in 2008.

'We are pretty strong in a few areas, and we have good depth in most events,' Barlow coach Sherry Gustafson said. 'We'll put up some points, but our league is strong.'

Centennial could challenge near the top of the league behind a veteran squad that also boasts several returning state scorers, while Central Catholic is also a threat behind its elite distance-running program. The Rams return 800-meter champ Taylor Morgan, along with 400 runner-up Nathan Lightner.

Following are previews of the five local teams:

• Barlow appears to be the league's top team, returning almost completely in tact from last year's squad that finished 11th at state.

The Bruins boast a pair of the state's best tag-teams with seniors Dillon Ballard, Chris Swift, Nathan Hope and Kevin Cook passing the baton in the long relay. The 400 sprint relay features three of last year's members, who came within a whisker (.13 seconds) of a state title in 2007. Cook returns along with junior Malcolm Johnson and senior Eric Capelle.

'We had a good season last year, but the guys really wanted more,' Bruins' coach Sherry Gustafson said. 'They've set some high goals for themselves, but they know what it takes.'

Capelle is the team's biggest scoring threat after reaching the finals in three events at state last season. He has found the most success in the sprints and hurdles, but could contend in a variety of events. Capelle took third at state in the 100 last season.

Johnson gives the Bruins a solid 1-2 threat in the sprints, while Swift and Cook offer a similar combination in the 400.

The Bruins are loaded on the track, but will hold their own in the field events, as well.

Senior K.C. Vaughn returns after placing fourth at state in the pole vault, while newcomer Ryan Crouser threw 53-feet-11 1/2-inches in the shot put earlier this season - the state's third best mark ever by a freshman.

• Gresham may have a chance to repeat their perfect dual season from a year ago if they were competing only in field this spring - unfortunately for Gresham the sport is track and field.

Gresham scored in every event up to the 800-meter race at last year's state meet and won the 1,600 relay, but all of those athletes have graduated leaving the Gophers thin in the track events this spring.

'We might take our lumps, but we just need to keep competing and once we mature we have a chance to be right there again,' Gophers' coach Chris Koenig said.

Gresham has plenty of talent in the field events, most notably in the throws where senior J.R. Velasquez returns after taking third in state in the shot put. Emerald Ressler returns in the jumps after taking fifth at state in the triple jump in 2007.

The track is led by senior Eric Hernandez in the sprints and junior Tim Mowery in the middle distances.

• Centennial is led by a top-notch group of throwers, highlighted by senior Craig Irby who qualified for the state finals in the javelin last season and is the top returner in the event for 2008. Sophomore David Vieru is a first-place threat in the shot put after finishing as the district runner-up in his first high school season. Seniors John Brewer and Jeff Yazzolina bring quality depth to the unit.

'They see what their teammates are doing during practice and it pushes each of them to work that much harder,' Eagles' coach Greg Letts said.

Eagles' senior Chris Struckman is another state title contender, after competing in Eugene the last two years. He took fourth in the high jump in 2007.

The Eagles struggled to a 2-5 dual record last season, but expect to move back into the top half of the league this spring.

'We knew we were in trouble with just three seniors a year ago,' Letts said. 'This year we're up to 16 seniors, and I expect us to be pretty competitive.'

• Reynolds returns a sizeable senior class led by the solid 1-2 combination of Austin Danielson and Sam Reynolds in the throwing events. Danielson finished sixth in the javelin at last year's district meet.

Reynolds should also be strong in the distance races after finishing second as a team during the cross country season. Austin Martin leads the way after taking seventh in the district 3,000 race last year. The unit will be without senior Daniel Vo, the team's No. 1 runner in the fall, who opted to join the tennis team this spring.

Seniors Brian Augustus and Josh Smith lead the sprint crew, while Pat Lewis is a scoring threat in the jumps.

• David Douglas finished third in league last year, but graduated five of its state qualifiers from last year's squad. Junior Zach Albott is one of the only state returners after taking second in the 100, 200 and 800 wheelchair races last season.

A full version of the boys track preview appeared in the Saturday, April 5, issue of The Outlook.