Janice Hellesto, right, and Natalie Dunn, seen here finishing 1-2 in the 400 at state last season, return this season as major point scorers for the PHS girls. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School boys and girls track teams head into this season with not only off-the-chart participation numbers but strong athletes capable of scoring points in most events. The Warrior girls will be trying to repeat as Class 4A state champions and the boys anticipate putting up a challenge as well with a strong presence in Eugene.

Longtime coach Joe Fulton has plenty of options on both rosters. In fact, he’s never had so many students in the track and field program with 93 — 50 girls and 43 boys — currently going through workouts. He’s actually looking to bring in a few more athletes into the mix involving past competitors he’d like to have back on the roster along with a couple of pole vaulters who had earlier expressed interest.

Philomath High’s girls return plenty of talent to make another run at 4A’s top trophy.

“Of course we lost Sage (Kramer), who was our top scorer at the state meet last year but I think we can cover that,” Fulton said, referring to last year’s state champion in the shot put and javelin and fourth-place finisher in the discus. “We have a lot of points returning but there are all these 5A schools that have moved down to 4A and they’ve got good athletes and will knock some of our kids further down so we don’t have that kind of guarantee of scoring potential.”

Three athletes expected to contribute a lot of points will be sophomore Janice Hellesto, sophomore Natalie Dunn and senior Ingrid Hellesto. All three of those athletes had major contributions to the team effort last spring by medaling in several events, including Janice Hellesto and Dunn finishing 1-2 in the 400, Janice Hellesto’s third in the 200 and Ingrid Hellesto’s second and fourth in the 300 and 100 hurdles.

Said Fulton, “Those are three big scorers — the Hellesto sisters and Natalie.”

Senior Ingrid Hellesto gives Philomath a strong presence in the hurdle events. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Sophomores Ellie Morton and Anneka Steen also quickly come to mind with their abilities. Morton will compete in the high jump and sprints while Steen can contribute in just about any event — including the triple jump where she placed third at state last year.

“She is probably the best all-around athlete on the team,” Fulton said about Steen, mentioning events like discus, 800-meter run, high jump and pole vault as other possibilities beyond the triple jump.

All of those athletes are major contributors to Philomath’s relays as well.

Besides Ingrid Hellesto in the hurdles, sophomores Ariana Boutilier and Petra Hernandez have shown promise.

Sophomore Adele Beckstead, the top cross-country runner for the Warriors last fall, has joined the track program this season.

“As good as our distance runners are — and we’re loaded on the girls’ distance — you have to go 1-2 in the district meet to go to state,” Fulton said. “Adele will definitely be able to do that.”

Factoring in with Beckstead will be availability as a dual-sport athlete. She is also one of Philomath’s top tennis players and the two sports have schedules that overlap at districts and state.

Sophomores Melia Lattin, Kateri Pindell, Brooke McDaniel and Hanna McDaniel all had exceptional performances last season at districts with Lattin qualifying for state in the 1,500. Sophomore Hallie Morrison has been impressing in practice and three freshmen will be in the mix with Ana Candanoza, Lucy King and Maggie King.

“I won’t even have to double the distance runners because we can put three fresh kids in all three events (800, 1,500, 3,000) and should be able to score well,” Fulton said.

Among the others in field events, junior Madison Juhl returns to the discus after finishing third in that event last year at districts. Senior Ally Todd in the javelin and junior Madison Schaffer in the pole vault are among the other standouts.

Fulton said track and field newcomer Heidi Bacho, another sophomore, has shown promise in throwing events.

“And there are going to be other surprises,” Fulton added. “There’s a lot of freshmen on the team … and some of them didn’t do middle school track. Sometimes, we get a big surprise but I think we’ve got the bases covered pretty well. We should have at least one good one in every single event.”

Senior Micah Matthews returns after winning state in the 110 hurdles last season. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

For the boys, Fulton has a roster with several point scorers now in their senior season. It starts with Micah Matthews, who won the 110 high hurdles last season and also qualified in the 300 hurdles and pole vault.

“He’s our big scorer — state champion in the 110 hurdles and he’s jumped 6 feet in the high jump and is looking quite good in that so far,” Fulton said. “We’re not sure if he’s going to pole vault or not … so he’ll do both hurdles, the high jump and he wants to try the triple jump or long jump.”

The Warriors bring back a strong contingent of distance runners in seniors Ben Hernandez, Brody Bushnell and Mateo Candanoza. Last year, Bushnell was third in the 1,500 and fourth in the 800, Candanoza placed fourth in the 3,000 and fifth in the 1,500, and Hernandez was sixth in the 1,500.

“They’re all back there and they’re in good shape,” Fulton said. “And now we’ve got Leo (Pausch) added to it, our phenomenal freshman and he could go to state. … Our distance runners are going to score well.”

Junior Simon King gives Philomath another solid option in the 800.

In the long sprints, sophomore Warwick Bushnell returns after qualifying for state individually in the 400 and 200 last year and senior Nixon Mooney has looked very good in practice, Fulton said. Senior Seth Arthurs has been impressive in the hurdles and freshman CD Nuno has exhibited strong speed.

“There’s a couple of kids we haven’t seen much of yet but we expect to help us a bit,” Fulton said, also mentioning Hudson Raab, a sophomore who is working through an injury, and senior Teddy Benbow, who is out for track for the first time. Sophomore Preston Luscher, a transfer from Santiam Christian, is also in the mix.

In the field events, freshman Josiah Peters appears to be the team’s top javelin thrower. Senior Isaac Workman in the shot put looks strong and freshman Jake McGaughy could be an immediate contributor in the throws. Nuno has an interest in the jumps but with his athletic abilities could be a factor in various other events. Luscher has shown promise in the javelin. And Fulton expects others to emerge.

With all of those athletes, Fulton will have decisions to make on who contributes on the relays.

“You don’t need a lot of scorers to do well at state,” Fulton said. “I’ve seen teams with two or three stars win state.”

Ben Hernandez, from left, Mateo Candanoza and Brody Bushnell return for their senior seasons in the distance events. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

As for all of the students involved in track and field, Fulton says he doesn’t take credit for the influx of athletes and points to the pay-to-play fees that have been waived.

“It’s huge for a sport like track and field that needs big numbers and it’s at the end of the year when a lot of these kids have already done two, even three sports,” Fulton said. “I’ve always thought that sports like cross-country, track and swimming that are no-cut sports should be free because anybody can be on them.”

Fulton’s assistant coaching staff includes Diana Bushnell (long jump/triple jump), Tyler Thomas (sprints/hurdles), Brian Lucas (throws), Scott Radetich (high jump), Alanna Volk (pole vault) and Laura Coen (mobility). Volk fills one of the program’s greatest needs as the pole vault coach.

The team opens the season Wednesday with the Mid Valley Dental Invitational in Dallas. The field events start at 3 p.m. and the running events at 4:30 p.m. Besides the Warriors and the host school, others competing will be Corvallis, Crescent Valley, Falls City, Lebanon, Santiam Christian, South Albany and West Albany.

Beyond this week’s opener, the PHS schedule also includes meets at Marist Catholic, Banks, Sweet Home, Junction City, Cascade and Cottage Grove. The Philomath Invitational will be staged in a few weeks on April 8. This year’s district meet will be hosted by Cascade but held at Sweet Home. And the state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene is scheduled for May 26-27.

Brad Fuqua

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.