by: Vern Uyetake, 
Austin Banta winds up in the shot put during a recent league meet against Lake Oswego and is the Lions’ top athlete in that event.

It might be wishful thinking to say that the West Linn boys track team will win this year's district championship, but the Lions won't be far from the top. They might even be good enough to knock off one of the hopefuls along the way.

'We're going to be competitive,' head coach Joe Cerny said. 'I think we're going to be a spoiler (at districts) … So don't look over your shoulder because we might be gaining on you.'

But, while you're looking over your shoulder, some of West Linn's best athletes might have already passed you by. In fact, the Lions will be strong in almost every event this season. And in one of those events, the 100-meter high hurdles, the Lions have three competitors ranked in the top 10 in the Three Rivers League.

That hurdle contingent includes Shawn Miller, who has the league's fourth-best mark to date at 16.28. In addition, West Linn's Alex Schlitt is ranked ninth and James Low is No. 10. Miller also is ranked among the best in the 300 intermediate hurdles, where his early-season time of 41.40 is third best in the league.

The Lions also will score a lot of points in the sprints, where Sambaran Chatterjee is the team's best. In the 100-meter dash, he's ranked No. 3 with a time of 11.39. And he's No. 5 in the 200 with a time of 23.74.

The Lions also are strong in the middle to long distances where Michael Bernert, Ben Morrow and Taylor Kolasinski are the leaders. Kolasinski has the best showing so far in that group with the fourth-best mark in the 800. Bernert is ninth in both the 800 and 1,500, and Morrow is No. 6 in the 3,000.

The jumps will be another stronghold for the Lions. In the long jump, Nico Matthews is ranked No. 4 and Miller is fifth in the TRL. In the triple jump, Matthews and Michael Vedder have the sixth and seventh spots, respectively.

The high jump, meanwhile, has been the most pleasant surprise for the Lions after senior Spencer Dorway turned out for track for the first time in high school and is now tied for the league's best mark at 6-2.

Austin Banta, Mitch Gaulke and Schlitt hold West Linn's best hopes in the weight events. Schlitt has the best early-season performance there with a 148-foot heave in the javelin, which represents the fifth-best mark in that event.

Overall, the Lions appear to have a well-rounded squad that will give several opponents fits this season. They got off to a good start by beating Lake Oswego 89-56 last Tuesday.

'That was a good confidence builder for us going into spring break,' Cerny said.

Typically, spring break means a lost week of practice for most local sports teams. But Cerny decided to hold optional practices each day during the week and he's been getting a decent turnout even though many of the team members are away on vacation.

It's the kind of dedication that will pay off in the long run for Cerny's crew. But the coach isn't making any promises about whether that will translate into a large number of berths at the state meet.

Cerny figures Chatterjee, Miller and Matthews have the best chances in the individual events. But the team's best hope might be in the short relay.

'We shocked the district last year in winning the short race,' Cerny said.

It will be hard replacing departed seniors Anthony Rue, Sam Oltman and Zach Glatt from that team. Only Chatterjee still remains, but Matthews, Schlitt and Brad Rose have proved to be capable replacements.

'This year's group is faster that last year's group,' Cerny said. 'And they're getting better.'

Interestingly, there's very little talk in the West Linn camp about the three consecutive state titles the Lions won in the late 1990s. And Cerny isn't venturing a guess about how long it will take to get back to that level.

'I don't really worry about that,' the coach said. 'I'm more worried about developing kids … I'd rather have a team that is a class act.'

So far, he already seems to have accomplished that goal.

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