TRACK: Their new Class 3A affiliation opens doors, creates new chances for Valiant athletes

The playing field has leveled for the Valley Catholic track team and that could mean big things to come for the Valiants.

After years of competing against larger schools, Valley Catholic has established itself in the new Class 3A West Valley League. No longer will they face teams with twice as many members as they did in the Tri-Valley League, instead boasting one of the league's largest - and most talented teams.

'The role has been reversed a little bit,' Valley Catholic coach Herb Lommen said. 'Instead of competing against Wilsonville and Sherwood, which had 80 to 100 kids to our 40, we're now one of the bigger teams.'

And while strength in numbers is often the key in track, the Valiants are more than just able bodies, possessing a strong core of standouts that should have both the boys and girls teams battling Westside Christian for league championships.

Valley Catholic beat Westside Christian for the boys team title during last Thursday's five-team meet at Gervais, while the girls finished as the runner-up to the Eagles.

The Valiant boys are led by one of the newly-formed Class 3A's top sprinters in senior Sean Capps, who has top-five times in both the 100 and 200, meters according to Capps was fifth in the 100 at last year's 3A state meet.

'He's slowly getting better this year,' Lommen said. 'He's running pretty well, but always against a headwind.'

Capps also competes on the relays, as does senior Jordan Casey, who continues to excel in the shot put. Casey has the top mark in 3A with a toss of 48-2¾ and threw 50-3¼ to place fourth at state last spring. He eclipsed 54 feet in 2006 and should return to that form once he 'tweaks' a couple things, according to Lommen.

'It's rolling off his fingers,' Lommen said. 'He's so quick. We're trying to slow him down a bit.'

Junior Brooks Feldman leads a distance crew that also includes junior Tim Brainerd and sophomore Yuki Hashina. Sophomores Alex Larson (hurdles) and Nam Vo (pole vault) will also be strong contenders for a state berth. Larson currently has the league's top time in the 300 intermediate hurdles.

'All three (Feldman, Larson and Vo) have a real good shot of going to state,' Lommen said. '(Larson) really broke out. He's taken big time off the last couple weeks.'

Lommen also expects contributions from Nathan Leascu in the relays, long jump and triple jump and junior Adam Wignall in the javelin.

'We have a lot of young guys that; if it starts clicking, we could do pretty well,' Lommen said. 'All the kids really stepped up last week and started performing.'

The Valiants' girls team returns one state qualifier in senior Laura Ueki, but Ueki is battling a recurring injury and is out for an undetermined amount of time. Ueki, who ran the league's No. 2 times in both the 1500 and 3000 in her only meet of the season, placed 10th at the 2006 state 3000.

'She's a big part of the team,' Lommen said. 'That's a big loss if we lose her.'

Valley Catholic has plenty of other weapons, especially on the track, but might need Ueki to beat Westside Christian.

'It will be between us and Westside Christian,' Lommen said. 'Our goal is to get two girls in every (district) final. If we do that, we'll have a shot.'

The Valiants can cover all the races on the track with juniors Sarah Imel, Kate Emery and Nicole Hardisty and freshman Elizabeth Emery giving them a strong core of sprinters.

The Emery sisters and sophomore Meghan Blood, who is building off her ninth-place effort at state cross country in the fall and battling back from an Achilles tendon injury, will hold down the middle distances with sophomore Gabby Gaytan-Mares.

Seniors Julie Brempelis and Katie Wilson, junior Kate Carey and freshman Taylor Hurwitz are the team's hurdlers. Kate Emery (long jump), Wilson (triple jump, high jump) and sophomore Michelle Schafman (pole vault) give Valley Catholic strong athletes in each jump.

Hardisty and sophomore Carly VanWetten throw javelin, while VanWetten and senior Amber Penyra compete in both the shot put and discus.

'Westside Christian doesn't have hardly any throwers,' Lommen said. 'It will come down to the field events. We both have some gaps. A place here or there can turn the meet around.'

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