Brody Bushnell
Junior Brody Bushnell, defending state champion in the 800 and 1,500, is a top returnee for the boys’ squad. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Philomath High boys track and field team plans to go the distance this season. Although veteran coach Joe Fulton doesn’t anticipate the Warriors contending for a team title, he does have a roster that’s particularly strong in the distance running events.

Leading the way are juniors Brody Bushnell, Mateo Candanoza and Ben Hernandez.

“They’re all in great shape … they should win a lot of races this year,” Fulton said. “And they’re backed up by a couple of new distance runners that are doing really well.”

Freshman Warwick Bushnell, younger brother of Brody, and sophomore Simon King, who missed last season with an injury, have been competitive in practice.

Brody Bushnell won both the 800 and 1,500 at last year’s state meet and anchored the winning 4-by-400-meter relay. He will have his work cut out to repeat, however, with Alexander Garcia-Silver running for Marshfield. Garcia-Silver formerly competed for a 5A school and this past fall, won the 4A cross-country meet.

“He’s running very well so it’s not going to be easy for Brody to defend but he can do it,” Fulton said. “I would guess the kid from Marshfield would do the 15(00) and 3000 whereas Brody does the 15(00) and 800.”

Even if those two runners overlap in just the one event, Bushnell will have stiff competition in the 800 as well with Siuslaw junior Samuel Ulrich and others among the returnees.

“He’s got a lot of competition out there but fortunately he’s in great shape and he’s healthy again after getting sick in cross-country and not being able to race at state,” Fulton said. “His health is back, he’s running high mileage and he’s doing impressive track workouts … he’s ready to go.”

Bushnell will actually run the 3,000 for the first time in high school at Saturday’s meet in Tillamook. Fulton said that will be a one-time appearance just to see how he does in the event. In the past, he hasn’t been entered in the 3,000 because he plays a critical role by anchoring the 4-by-400 relay — and that event follows the 3,000 in meets.

Candanoza, meanwhile, is the top returning 3,000-meter runner in 4A. Candanoza was fifth at last year’s state meet but the four runners finishing ahead of him all graduated. But again, Marshfield’s Garcia-Silver becomes a factor.

“Still, Mateo should finish very high at state and Ben Hernandez is running really well in the 1,500 workouts as well,” Fulton said.

The 4-by-400 relay returns Brody Bushnell in that anchor role but will have three newcomers in Warwick Bushnell, King and Hernandez. Junior Nixon Mooney is showing potential in the 400 as well.

“Even though we lost three guys plus our alternate last year to graduation, I think we’re going to do just fine in that event again this year,” Fulton said.

Elsewhere on the team, Micah Matthews, who placed third in the 110 high hurdles at state last season, returns for his junior year. Matthews also went to state in the pole vault and high jump and will be a top contender in the 300 hurdles.

“He could qualify for state in all four events,” Fulton said.

Beyond the distance runners and Matthews, Fulton is still figuring out how the rest of the athletes will fit into various events.

“To be honest with you, the rest of the team is so new and so young and we haven’t had a meet yet so I couldn’t really tell you (top prospects),” Fulton said. “We have high hopes for certain kids. … After a meet or two, we’ll see which ones look like they might be able to qualify for the state championships.”

Mateo Candanoza, junior, is among the top contenders this season in the 3,200. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Overall in terms of team points, Fulton said it’s mostly a rebuilding year for the boys.

“We lost a lot of guys, a lot of good sprinters and distance runners graduated so we’re rebuilding right now,” he said. “We like what we see, they’re good kids and they work hard but we don’t know yet how well they’ll do in a track meet.”

The schedule includes the Philomath Invitational on April 14. Eight schools are participating with the Warriors to be joined by Cascade, Cottage Grove, Newport, Sisters, Stayton, Siuslaw and Sweet Home.

The competition falls on a Thursday so the meet could hire Athletic Timing Services.

“It saves us so much work and they do such a great job,” Fulton said. “They had no weekend dates available — all of their crews were completely booked and so he gave me some options and that was one that was available.”

Fulton needs volunteers to help at the home meet.

“Anybody out there in the Philomath interested in being volunteers at that meet, we’ll gladly accept them because it takes a lot of people to put on a track meet,” Fulton said. “I’m still about 11 people short. … We’ll take former athletes, parents of former athletes, anybody interested in coming to the meet.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.