“We are women, hear us roar.” Might this be the battle cry for Linfield’s track and field programs this year?
For the first time in recent memory, female Wildcats outnumber their male counterparts on the oval and in the jumping and throwing pits. It is an encouraging sign for a rising program that has placed in the upper half of the Northwest Conference each of the past three seasons.
Speaking to the age-old question of “quantity versus quality,” head coach Travis Olson said, “We could be pretty good. We brought in some good freshmen, and the people that are returning are getting better. Our women’s program could have a lot of success this year.”
Among the veterans, triple threat Anna LaBeaume has the most impressive resume. The defending champion in the shot put and hammer– and last year’s runner-up in the discus – already holds top-five marks in the Linfield record books. What’s scary, however, is how much she continues to improve.
Complementing LaBeaume in the throws are Courtney Alley and Kate Shear. Alley, who placed fourth in the discus at the 2012 NWC Championships, is poised for a great junior year. And after missing most of last season due to injury, Shear, Linfield’s record holder in the javelin, is ready to make another run at nationals.
In the distances, Siena Noe, whom Olson calls “a machine,” is the frontrunner in the 5,000 meters and the 10K. Hannah Greider can also challenge in the longest events.
Brooke Niemann, Linfield’s top cross country performer, is set to compete in the 5K and steeplechase. Classmate Audrey Lichten could score points in the middle distances (1,500 and 800).
Linfield’s talented sprint corps is bound to produce a serious number of points. Melany Crocker was a top-four finalist in four events last year, including a runner-up finish in the 100 and a league title with the 4x100 relay. The senior has faced an uphill battle coming back from an offseason training accident – in which a tree branch fell on her, breaking her pelvis and forearm – but is too talented and determined to be counted out.
“She can come in and pick up right where she left off,” Olson said of Crocker. “As long as she realizes it’s not going to happen overnight, by the end of the season she’ll be ready to run some good times again.”
Not far off Crocker’s blistering pace is Halsie Peek, who has also posted some of the fastest 100 and 200 times in program history. The sophomore placed in both events at the conference championships and should again be in the thick of things this year. Another veteran, Morgan Cohen, returns to the track after a year-long hiatus.
Freshman Rachael Gernhart, a two-sport athlete who also competes in soccer, is one of the most promising newcomers. She will contribute on both relays, could place in the open 100 and has the ability to contend for a conference title in the triple jump. Another potential point-scorer in the jumps is rookie Celena Bylerlee.
The Linfield men have several individuals who could shine at the NWC Championships, but how the team can perform as a whole remains to be seen.
Lester Maxwell has sights set on a conference title in the 800 after placing third in his signature event two years running. He also has a legitimate shot at making the national cut.
“He’s on his way to having a pretty outstanding year after being injured and not finishing the way he wanted to last year,” Olson said of Maxwell.
Charlie Poppen, a standout wide receiver on the gridiron, hops over to the track, where he will specialize in the 400 while also contributing in the javelin and high jump.
Adding to Linfield’s depth in the 400 is a talented – and fast – freshman, Tom Steelhammer. Olson thinks the Steelhammer, who also runs the 200, could make it straight to the top of the medal stand in the 400. Veterans Michael Swain and Jason Cheyne are key components of the Wildcats’ relay quartets.
Michael Madden is Linfield’s top returner in the 400 hurdles, and has also made great strides in the decathlon.
Distance-wise, the ‘Cats took some hits – graduating their core and losing junior Joe Gladow to a study abroad program – but Cameron Chester and Frankie Moncada are running very well.
Over in the field events, McMinnville native Felix DeVera could place high in the pole vault. Mickey Arkans, another fall-sport (football) athlete turning out for track, will help out in the jumps.
Morgunn Ewing possesses an incredible amount of potential in the javelin, which he has only been throwing for a couple of years. Olson said the sophomore’s marks should place high at the conference meet, and that he is also only about 10 feet away from an invitation to nationals.
Veterans Drew Wert, Nick Fairhart and Kyle Pfeifer could fetch multiple points in the shot put, discus and hammer.
“We have the pieces to do well I just don’t know until I actually see how people compete,” Olson said of his squad’s chances at the NWC Championships. “Realistically, we can get fourth or better.”