Just how much a host of newcomers improve will hold the key to Lakeridge High School's boys track team's fortunes in 2008.

'One of our team strengths is that we have a preponderance of athletes new to track and field this year,' said Coach Joseph Schloetter. 'While this will make coaching more difficult on the experience side of things, it does give our team a chance to really improve over the course of the season.'

With so much youth on the squad, a couple of returning standouts will be especially counted on this season.

Dave Marks, a senior, should be a standout in the 3,000 meters. He is a hungry athlete, because illness caused him to miss the 2007 Three Rivers League championship meet.

Sprinter Billy Mitchell, a junior, is definitely among the TRL's best.

He was second in the league in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints last year.

The newcomer brigade is led by Alex Anderson, a junior cross-country runner who is in his first year of running track. Anderson is a talent, having placed seventh in the league cross country meet.

Jimmy Trumbull, a junior, has the potential to be an explosive high jumper. He has shown plenty of hops as a basketball player.

Sophomores Max Heninger and Robbie Magill should have much impact on team fortunes in '08. Heninger will run the 400 and 800 meters, while Magill will be a fixture in the sprint relays and long jump.

Now in his fourth season as coach, Schloetter hopes his tracksters will find their strongest events as they progress throughout this season.

'Most of our early season meets will be spent learning what works for the newcomers to compete at the highest level,' Schloetter said. 'For our returnees, we will spend the first part of the season training, as the district meet and state meets are our ultimate goals.'

Meanwhile the girls team is coming off a season in which it finished third in state. The team graduated state champion sprinter Mandy White but, surprisingly, is expected to be nearly as good this year.

Most notably, Samantha Berryman returns for her senior campaign. Berryman is one of the most gifted and versatile athletes in the school's history and can almost literally do well in every event.

Berryman will specialize in the jumps but is also a very fast hurdler and can be used in the sprints as well. She will be attending the University of Arizona next year but has her sights set on winning her first individual state chamiponship this spring.

'She's pretty focused this year. She knows it's her last chance,' Pacer coach Ken James said.

Another versatile athlete for Lakeridge is Lexi Ross who took fourth in state in the high jump last season. Ross is also expected to be one of the best shot-putters in the league and, while recovering from a back injury, she will be used in the sprints early in the season.

'That's a pretty unique combination but that just goes to show how great of an athlete she is,' James said.

The Pacers also boast two of the best javelin throwers in the state but the trick is advancing both of them to state in such a competitive league.

'We could have two of the three best girls in the state but we just have to get them through districts,' James said.

Andrea Hopkins took second in state last year as a sophomore and senior Kai Schmidt could also earn a spot in Eugene in the javelin this year.

Michaela McNairy will be the team's top runner in the 400 and junior Jenna Horton, who was a strong 400 runner last year, will move up to the 800.

Lakeridge is also strong in the distance events with Zoe Newman giving the Pacers some depth in the 1500 and the 3000.

'She's improved tremendously and that's been huge for the team,' James said.

Running along with Berryman in the hurdles will be Stacy Sawin who James believes has a chance to qualify for state in each of those events.

Filling in at the sprint events for White will be Sara Hursey who is a strong competitor in the 100, 200 and on the short relay.

And, along with Lakeridge's other talented throwers, Christina Bogdan could be among the league's best in the discus.

This year there are 60 girls on the team's roster, one of the best turnouts in the program's history and James believes that the Pacers should be near the top of the league again.

And, if the team stays healthy, it could make some noise at state once again.

'I think once we get into it, we're going to be in good shape. We should stack up pretty well and it's pretty exciting,' James said.