PHS track
Philomath High School track and field (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

In a normal academic year, Clemens Field would shut down for the winter following Philomath High’s football season and come back to life in the spring with track and field. Of course, this is no normal year and the transition is immediate with Alivia Pittman working on hurdles just days after Issiah Blackburn made his last tackle.

Coach Joe Fulton’s runners, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers started the season Friday at the Central Coast Invitational in Florence with plans to compete the following day at the Junction City Invitational. The weekend marks the beginning of a pandemic-shortened schedule that for the first time since 2017 will include a meet at Philomath.

The boys’ roster, which includes 20 athletes, is loaded with runners.

“The strength of our boys’ team is our varsity cross-country runners,” Fulton said, a group that just placed runner-up in the 4A state meet. “They pretty much dominate all of the running events for us.”

The girls have a bit more balance with solid opportunities to score points in several different events.

“We have 24 girls out, still quite low, but we have more diversity on the girls’ side as far as covering events other than one area,” Fulton said.

Expected to be a top Class 4A team in 2020, the girls lost an exceptional dose of talent in athletes such as Maggie Ross, Hannah Bovbjerg, Hannah Hernandez and Madison Bushnell. But Fulton does have state-experienced competitors back in seniors Melia Morton, Mia Rust, Amey McDaniel and Pittman.

In 2019, Morton placed second in the 400, seventh in the long jump and ran legs on the runner-up 4-by-100 relay and title-winning 4-by-400 relay. But in this oddest of school years, Morton enters this short season without the benefit of getting into great shape during swim season.

“Of course, she would be a favorite to win state 400,” Fulton said. “We used to get her right after swim season and she’s in pretty good shape but she’ll be racing on memory. She’s quite competitive, so as long as we don’t get her hurt, she’ll be on both of our relays and run the 400.

Pittman and Rust are both coming off soccer season, so conditioning shouldn’t be much of an issue. Pittman placed fourth in the 300 hurdles, eighth in the 100 hurdles and ran a leg on the runner-up 4-by-100 relay at the 2019 state meet. Rust had a solid sophomore season with fifth at state in the shot put.

Fulton expects Pittman to run in her hurdle events and both relays while Rust will compete in the shot, discus and in a new event for her, the javelin.

Amey McDaniel tied for seventh in the pole vault at state in 2019 and returns for her final go-round.

Among the group of newcomers competing in varsity track for the first time is Ingrid Hellesto, a sophomore who placed 10th at the recent state cross-country meet.

“She’s obviously in very good shape from cross-country and she’ll probably focus on 800,” Fulton said. “She has a lot of leg speed and she’ll be on both relays.”

Junior Haviland Eves has caught the coach’s eye in preseason workouts.

“One girl that’s been showing a lot of promise in practice is Havi Eves,”he said. “She’s in good shape, she worked out in the winter. She’ll be on our relays as well and probably be a long sprinter.”

Senior Sarah McDaniel was another athlete who stayed in shape, Fulton said, and she’ll run the 3,000. Junior Kaeleigh Houchin, coming off a good cross-country season, will run the 1,500. Freshman Ellie Morton has impressed in practice and might be running in either middle distance or sprints.

“The girls should place fairly well in the district because of those individuals being able to win their events,” Fulton said. “Cascade is probably the team to beat on the girls’ side; they’ve got some really good athletes.”

The boys have just one athlete who appeared at state in 2019 with senior Grant Hellesto placing sixth in the 800. Fulton said Hellesto and another senior, Levi Knutson, are looking strong in the 800 and 1,500.

Fulton said a lot of his distance runners also possess the type of speed that could see success in shorter races.

“They could be sprinters but the only one I’ll probably keep in the sprints is Sean Cummings,” Fulton said about the senior. “He’s been lightning fast in the early workouts, so he’ll probably run the 200 and 400.”

Sophomore Brody Bushnell, who was the team’s top cross-country runner, will run the 800, 1,500 and anchor the 4-by-400 relay. Sophomores Mateo Candanoza and Ben Hernandez will be competitive in the 3,000 and senior Justin Enghauser brings exceptional abilities to the 800.

“We’re just loaded in the distance events,” Fulton said. “Basically from 400 meters on up through the 4-by-400, we should be very good.”

On the short relay, Fulton anticipates sophomore Isaac Workman, junior Caleb Jensen and senior Lucas Ainswoth joining Cummings.

“Josh Peters would be on it but he’s got an injury right now; he was pretty banged up after football and tried to jump right into track,” Fulton said about the sophomore. “But he’s really quick and could make both of our relays if he was healthy.”

Another runner to watch is Micah Matthews, a sophomore described by Fulton as a “decathlete-type kid” who will compete in various events, including the hurdles. Hellesto is also getting a look at hurdles.

“He can still run the 1,500 and then come back and run the hurdles because it’s quite a bit later in the meet,” Fulton said. “We’re going to test him out in that event on Saturday (at Junction City) and see if he’s got potential.”

In the field events, the Warriors are thin with the top prospects including Matthews in the high jump and senior George House in the triple jump.

“Our turnout is super low; it’s like half of what it normally would be, so the field events are not being covered right now,” Fulton said. “I’ve been trying to convince some kids to go over there and see if they’ve got any potential in any of them. It’s such a short season, it’s hard to teach kids all of the fundamentals of a field event in such a short period of time and expect them to compete at a varsity level.”

Fulton’s not sure what to expect from other teams in the district, other than what he knows about distance runners. Sisters, for example, will take some points away from Philomath in some of those middle and distance running events.

“In any other league, we’d sweep the distance events but our league is tough in distance,” he said. “I think we’ll win the 4-by-400 at districts and should be a contender at state.”

The Oregon West Conference meet appears to be set for May 11-12 at Stayton. A 4A state meet will follow on May 21-22, most likely at Siuslaw High in Florence, although Stayton has also been mentioned as a potential site.

“It’s still in the works, subject to the athletic directors of all of the conferences,” Fulton said. “Most of the coaches want it at Siuslaw, even though it’s kind of far away, but we just know it’ll be a first-rate meet; it’s a great facility.”

As far as that Philomath Invite on May 1, no spectators will be allowed based on Benton County’s COVID-19 numbers. The meet will be split into two sessions with Philomath, Cascade and Stayton competing at 10 a.m., and Woodburn, Newport and Sweet Home following at 2 p.m. The results will then be combined.

Fulton said the home meet could use volunteers to help with the events, so anyone interested should contact the coach at Volunteers are especially needed for the afternoon portion of the meet.

The Warriors last hosted a meet in Philomath on April 18 when the Great White Shark Invitational was moved here from Newport. Since then, the field event area has been improved and the track resurfaced. The Warriors were set to host the Philomath Coed Classic in 2020 but, of course, the pandemic led to the season being called off.

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