Sage Kramer
PHS senior Sage Kramer should be among the top 4A contenders in the discus and javelin. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

This season’s girls track and field team reminds head coach Joe Fulton of what he had for talent back in 2017. That spring, a freshman class with loads of potential moved into the program and four years later as seniors, they were ready to win the state title.

The pandemic wiped out athletics in 2020, of course, so the opportunity to win state never happened. But as far as this year’s roster, Fulton is seeing similarities with where that team in 2017 was developmentally.

“We worked with them for four years and they were ready to tear it up at state their senior year and then we didn’t have state,” Fulton said. “We’ve been waiting for this class and they’re here and they look good in practice. … It’s probably a year or two away from actually contending for a state team title but we’ll see.”

Many of the athletes will need to prove themselves in actual competitions.

“Most of them need some high school races for us to determine how good they are but I’m pretty optimistic,” Fulton said.

A good dose of that optimism relates to the outlook for the relays — both the 4-by-100 and 4-by-400.

“It’s been looking strong out there … the time trials went really well,” Fulton said. “Once they get their handoffs down and get some competition, I think they’re going to surprise some schools.”

Heading into the season, the 4-by-100 will feature sophomore Ellie Morton, freshman Natalie Dunn, senior Haviland Eves and freshman Janice Hellesto. The long relay includes freshman Aneeka Steen, Dunn, Janice Hellesto and junior Ingrid Hellesto.

“We’ll see how these freshmen girls develop in their individual events,” Fulton said. “And we’re going to be trying out Ingrid in the 300 hurdles and Petra Hernandez is going to try that as well. So we hope that turns out well for them.”

In the individual sprints, Dunn is showing good speed and Janice Hellesto has also looked good in practice, Fulton said. Hellesto is also in the long jump. Morton is a sprinter and high jumper.

Senior Sage Kramer will likely generate a lot of team points in the field events for the Warriors. Last season at state, she placed fourth in the javelin and sixth in the discus and also qualified in the triple jump. And she reached those accomplishments in just her first season of track and field.

“She loves throwing and she’s a very good discus and javelin thrower,” Fulton said. “This should be a very good track year for Sage now that she has a year under her belt and understands the sport. She’ll do quite well.”

In addition to Kramer in the discus, the Warriors also have sophomore Madison Juhl. Steen is in the mix as well — a freshman who provides the rare combination of discus thrower and 400 runner.

A newcomer to the program that’s showing potential is junior Abigail Brown, another athlete trying track and field for the first time. She will compete in the shot put on Saturday. In all, the program has a lot of athletes throwing.

“A lot of them are freshmen, sophomores, juniors so it gives us a chance to build for the future,” Fulton said.

Senior Emery Boutilier returns in the pole vault, an event that she qualified for last season. It remains to be seen how the pole vault will be handled, however, following the recent retirement of longtime assistant Dennis Phillips. Fulton has been unable to find a new pole vault coach in such a short time.

Junior Ingrid Hellesto appears to be in line for the 300 hurdles and a spot on the 4-by-400 relay. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The girls roster appears deep in distance running and with many meets allowing no more than three athletes per event, Fulton will be challenged to determine who will compete.

For example, Fulton said he contacted the meet director of this weekend’s competition at Tillamook to see if he could enter more than three in the 3,000, an event that usually doesn’t run at capacity. Fulton got the green light and entered six in the race,

“And then I’ve got three completely different girls in the 800 and three completely different girls in the 1500,” Fulton said.

Fulton hesitated to name any names with so many contending for varsity races. But he expects there will be a group that rises to the top.

“I don’t want to put any pressure on any single one of them but every one of them has talent,” Fulton said. It’s just a matter of seeing who can handle the pressure of track races. Because most distance runners prefer cross-country to track because you get to disappear out there for a while. Here, you’re on the track and everybody sees every single step you take. … They’ll figure it out.”

Ingrid Hellesto is the top returning distance runner and could be in the 800, although that may not work out if Hellesto focuses on the 300 hurdles — those events are one after the other during meets.

“The girls look deeper and stronger and they’re definitely better than they were last year,” Fulton said. “We have an infusion of eighth-grade girls (now freshmen) that are very talented.”

Philomath lost two assistants from last season’s team but returning to help Fulton are Diana Bushnell (long jump, triple jump), Tyler Thomas (hurdles, sprints) and Brian Lucas (throws). Fulton works primarily with the distance runners.

Overall, there are 39 girls in the program along with another 38 for the boys — a healthy number for the smaller staff to take on.

“With everybody healthy, there will be meets where we have 70-plus kids competing,” Fulton said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had that many kids out for track.”

After Saturday’s season opener up at Tillamook, the Warriors will participate in a three-school meet at Sweet Home on April 7 and then host the Philomath Invitational on April 14. Fulton needs volunteers to help with the home meet (email chiefjoephsxc@gmail.com if interested).

On April 22-23, the team will compete in separate meets although not with the same athletes. Most of the team will participate in the Central Coast Invitational at Siuslaw on April 22 but those who are invited will compete at the Meet of Champions on April 23 at Sweet Home.

Meets at Stayton and Cottage Grove follow before districts on May 13-14 at Sweet Home and state on May 20-21 at Hayward Field in Eugene.