Lady Braves haven't lost a Cowapa League track and field meet in the last four years

The last time the Banks girls track and field team lost a Cowapa League district meet, the girls on this year’s squad were still in middle school.

After a four-year undefeated run through the league by the Lady Braves, this year’s squad is tasked with trying to continue the streak — one just barely alive after Banks squeaked out a half-point victory against Yamhill-Carlton at the 2012 district meet in Scappoose.

“Can’t get much closer than that,” said Rob Frank, Banks’ longtime track and field coach who is sharing coaching duties this season with Tony Cicoria.

As in 2012, the Banks girls’ strengths will be in the field events. Banks qualified six girls to the Class 4A state meet a year ago, and the good news is that five of them return this season, including all three of the team’s district champions.

After four trips to the state meet, hurdler/jumper Jennifer Hilger has graduated, but younger sister Amy Hilger, now a junior, returns. After defeating classmate and fellow state qualifier Lauren Birr in the district meet high jump, Hilger put in the best performance of any Banks athlete at state, finishing third among Class 4A girls in Eugene. Birr tied for ninth.

Like Hilger, thrower Annie Victor also made her way onto the awards podium at state with a fifth-place effort in the discus. Victor is the two-time defending Cowapa League champion in that event and will be looking for her first qualification in the shot put after a third-place district finish last year.

Fellow throwers Kindel Bailey and Ashley Edwards went 1-2 in the league javelin competition and also are back.

Additional key returners include senior hurdler/pole vaulter Michaela Shurts (third in the high hurdles and pole vault at districts), her sister and fellow pole vaulter Kiana Shurts (tied for fourth in the pole vault at districts), plus seniors Johanna Blake (fifth in the triple jump) and Libby Withers (sixth in the triple jump).

“That’s a solid group of kids, and all those (girls) are back and they’re doing well so far in practice,” Frank said.

Thrower Ellie Monroe “is throwing much better this year,” Frank said, and he picked out freshmen Ariel Slistka, a hurdler, and Maddison King, a sprinter, as newcomers to watch.

On the track, the team will have to fill the void left by Amanda Reaser, a three-time state meet participant who graduated in 2012, and former state meet participant Ariana Daskalakis, who Frank said has transferred from Banks. Frank also said that sprinter Cassie Turner will miss the season due to injury.

“I think we’ll be strong in the field events. We’ll be strong in the jumping and throwing events,” Frank said. “And we’ll be weaker than we were last year on the track, partly because … we have OK numbers, but we have a lot of kids in the field events and not that many in the running events. I think that’ll make a difference.”

As for the Banks boys, many of their scorers in the 2012 district meet — in which the Braves took sixth place — were underclassmen who return this season.

“We’re still pretty young. We have a lot of sophomores, a lot of freshmen, and a lot of first-year juniors,” Frank observed. “We’re kind of rebuilding after those two years (2010 and 2011) when we placed at the state meet.”

Only one senior, pole vaulter Luke Kinksy, scored in that 2012 district meet, though reigning district javelin champion Tim Cutone did not turn out for track this year. He was the only state meet participant on the boys side.

But Matthew Borchers, a district meet placer in the 800 and 1,500 meters, provides scoring power in the distances.

“He’s looking very good,” Frank said about Borchers, a state meet participant in the 3,000 in 2011.

Frank said that Lucas Hidalgo, fourth in the pole vault as a freshman, is vaulting “about two-and-a-half feet higher than he was last year.”

Junior Thomas Blatner, third in the shot put in 2012, and sophomore Dallin Shurts, who matched that effort in the discus, are back. Emmit Vandehey also returns after placing in all three jumps. Frank also tabbed fourth-year sprinter Michael King, sophomore Holden Partain and Kieran Thomas to lead in the sprints.

Garrett Markham has turned out after playing baseball last season and will compete in the throws. Andrew Santa Maria joined the team mid-season last year and shows promise in the pole vault, long jump and triple jump. And speedy baseball players Graysen Partain, Myka Rosa and Devin King will moonlight in the sprints when available.

The Braves kick off the season today with a dual meet at Gladstone and then are off until April 6, when they are scheduled to compete in the Tillamook Invitational.

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