Motivated by a “humbling experience” at last year’s Northwest Conference Championships, the Linfield Wildcats look to capitalize on their full potential, and stay healthy, to resume their upward progression in the conference team standings.
“The pieces are in place to improve, and that’s what we’re shooting for,” said fourth-year head coach Travis Olson. “I think the attitude is there, that we’re all on the same page for that common goal (of ultimately winning a conference title) and people are excited to compete and support each other. It’s a good atmosphere out there right now.”
Linfield’s greatest point scoring opportunities for both squads reside in the throws and in the distance events.
On the men’s side, Mike Maierhofer, Nick Fairhart and Morgunn Ewing are the veteran leaders in their respective events. Maierhofer, a relative newcomer to the sport, has picked up right where he left off last year in the shot put. Fairhart is one of the team’s captains and in addition to competing well in the discus, things are really starting to click for the senior in the hammer. Ewing, meanwhile, is rehabilitating an injury sustained during football season, but should contend for points in the javelin.
Freshmen Scott Anderson and Lucas Clark bring added depth to the throwing ranks.
Over on the track, senior Joe Gladow and freshman Michael O’Neil provide a solid 1-2 punch in the 5,000 meters, with Gladow also ramping it up for the 10,000 and O’Neil testing his speed in the 1,500. Gladow seeks redemption after an injury-hindered cross country season, while O’Neil makes his track and field debut after a stellar fall.
“He’s a special one,” Olson said of O’Neil, who was Linfield’s top finisher at the cross country championships this past fall. “He shows up on race day and is one you don’t have to worry about. He really knows how to compete and is a confident runner. I’m excited for him.”
The Wildcats are a bit thin in the sprinting corps, but Jake Mihelich and Tom Steelhammer are serious threats in the open 400, and Treve’ Evans and Bryce Evans should contribute on the relays.
Art O’Kelly and Chad Linnerooth lead the middle distance crew, while Zachary Knight could amount to be an outstanding hurdler, should he remain healthy. Eric Iginoba and Kennedy Johnson are promising talents in the triple jump.
For Linfield’s women, it is again a trio of veteran throwers to watch out for. Anna LaBeaume is a four-time conference champion and remains a triple contender in the hammer, shot put and discus. Courtney Alley, one of the Wildcats’ captains, has sustained a bump in the road with an ankle injury, but once healthy, could similarly score points in all three events. The coaching staff is “treading on eggshells” a bit in terms of training with the goal of keeping Kate Shear healthy, but Olson is optimistic about the senior’s chances of returning to national competition.
Looking through the rest of the women’s roster, Linfield looks pretty good on paper.
Hannah Greider and Siena Noe – two top-10 performers in the 10,000 meters – are poised for great final seasons, and fellow senior Katie Skinner has increased her workload to the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Audrey Lichten is the squad’s top middle distance performer.
Linfield’s top returning sprinter, Halsie Peek, is juggling track with her first year of nursing school, but has balanced both responsibilities well so far and is a key component of both relay quartets.
Coming off her first indoor season, Ellie Schmidt is ready to make waves in the open 400, and possibly also in the 200 meters.
“She really surprised herself,” Olson said of Schmidt, a two-sport standout that was an all-region selection in soccer. “I’m liking what I see already from her.”
Brenna Stinson tests the heptathlon this year, and could score points in that event as well as in the long jump. Rachael Gernhart could make noise in the triple jump, but needs to stay healthy. Joy Harpham is a returning point scorer in the high jump.
Linfield’s top newcomers include Haley Pattishal in the sprints and Dallas Edge, a great hurdler who can also contribute in the open 100, 4x100 relay and heptathlon.
Both the men and women hope to stay healthy after missing out on several point scoring opportunities a year ago. A long season gets underway Feb. 28-March 1 at home for the Linfield Erik Anderson Memorial Icebreaker and concludes April 25-26 at Puget Sound for the NWC Championships, and for a select few, at May 22-24 in Delaware, Ohio, for the NCAA Division III Championships.