Long before the first race was to begin, far ahead of the first flying discus and the first gravity-defying vault, the St. Helens track and field team got some chilling news: they wouldn't get to participate in their traditional ice-breaker meet at Westview High school. A shift in Westview's conference, the Class 6A Metro League, meant the Wildcats would have to schedule a league meet on the very same day, bumping St. Helens from the competition and the chance to knock the rust off their spikes before the meets started to matter.
The Lions were able to replace the meet with something far closer to home. They'll start their season just down the road at Scappoose High School in a double dual meet with the Indians and Cascade High School on March 20.
And they'll have a number of big guns to show off in their initial outing of the 2014 season. St. Helens sent athletes to the state championships in nine different events last spring in Eugene. Eight of those events ended with a scoring effort for the Lions, and many of those names will be returning to this year's team.
The team is a little smaller than last year's squad, and with a different flavor, but St. Helens will look to do what they've done in recent years: build off their successes with the distance events, and lean on their jumpers.
They'll see the return of senior Kylie Reinholdt, who took fifth in the triple jump and seventh in the long jump last spring, scoring all of the Lions' points for the girls' team. The Lions will also have Patience Marshall, who was a standout on the cross country team and was selected as Athlete of the Week for her efforts. Marshall took 11th place overall in the 800 meter run in last year's state finals.
On the boys' side, the Lions lost valuable pieces in Nate Reed and Kendrick Alvarez. Reed was a rock for the throwing team, finishing 4th in the discus and eighth in the javelin, despite considerable pain and soreness in his throwing arm. Alvarez scored in the 110 meter hurdles and the 300 meter hurdles, taking eighth and seventh place respectively.
The runner who finished just in front of Alvarez, though, will be back for another year. Thomas Hughes took sixth in the 300 meter hurdles and seventh in the 110 meter hurdles last spring, and will be a highlight on the boys' team this year along with seniors Jacob Zartman and Corey West in the throws, and senior Brian Strang on the distance side of things.
Strang was the Lions' lone representative at the state cross country meet, but failed to place at the event, capping an impressive cross country season with a bit of a sour note.
He could score at state, said Head Coach Gerry Tinkle, who mentioned Strang would compete in the 1,500 and 3,000 meter runs. He didn't do so well at cross country when he got to state, but he had a really good season and beat a lot of people.
Distance, along with a vastly improved sprinting core, will be a strong advantage for the Lions. Tinkle hopes to carry the cross country team's success into the track season, building off the foundation which has been laid down for several months.
It's a year-round program, our cross country, he said. We run summer, we run winter. We get a lot of kids who are dedicated to it and like doing it. That has helped a lot.
Though he saw value in the dedication of the kids who stick purely to running and don't dabble in other sports, Tinkle was also supportive of the athletes who shift their athletic talent from sport to sport as the seasons change. Many athletes, including seniors Tanner Long, West and Zartman will be taking part in their third sport, and have had to switch gears in a hurry.
An awful lot of our kids, because we're such a small school, do basketball and wrestling and don't do our sport year round, said Tinkle. That's probably a good thing, because they're a better athlete for doing those types of sports. It's a progression, you come in to each year and build.
That's not always the case. At times, dedication and hard work can't quite match natural talent, but it's a rare occurrence.
Occasionally, you get that one runner who is just born fast, said Tinkle.