With plenty of numbers on both sides, totaling nearly 90 student-athletes, Linfield has improved its depth in many areas. But the big question on head coach Travis Olson’s mind is: how quickly, and by how much, can the Wildcats develop by the time the Northwest Conference Championships roll around?
All-American Morgunn Ewing (javelin) and Northwest Conference champions Kennedy Johnson (triple jump) and Jake Mihelich (400 meters) all return for the Linfield men, who are particularly strong in the sprints and throws.
Ewing has picked right where he left off, and after focusing on track instead of football in the fall, is ready to challenge for a league title. He leads a strong throwing contingent that also includes senior Tim Pang, who has the potential to score big points in the discus in just his second season of track.
Scott Anderson, who just missed the finals as a freshman, specializes in the shot put, while James Andrew, Josh Miller and Ryne Fuhrmark can contribute in both the shot and the disc. Fellow rookie Jeff Lieder is a talented prospect in all three throws.
Johnson, meanwhile, is already triple jumping as far as he was at the end of his rookie season, and has also dramatically increased his speed on the track.
Rounding out the field events is talented newcomer Dallas Fagen, who has filled a major hole for the Wildcats in the pole vault and can also help out in the sprints.
A year removed from an individual title in the 400 and recording another top-three finish in the 200, Mihelich possesses even more dangerous speed entering his second outdoor season.
“He’s really lighting it up right now. He had a great indoor season and was running over than second faster than he did last year at this time,” Olson said. “It’s a given that as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a guy that can move into nationals and make some noise.”
Adding depth to the sprinting corps are Jay Braun, Kane Kennedy and Ryan Orlandini. Braun and Kennedy in particular are capable of battling for the conference title in the short sprints.
“We haven’t been this deep in the sprints in my tenure,” Olson said. “They all had good indoor seasons. If we can get two or three guys, including a couple of frontrunners, in the finals of the 100 and 200, that’s huge.”
Chad Linnerooth is the top talent in the middle distances, while Allen Kroger can double in the 400 and 800, or assume a shorter schedule with the 200 and 400 races. Linfield’s longer distance crew is comprised of unproven talent. With Michael O’Neil and Alex Mangan still recovering from injuries sustained during the cross country season, the Wildcats are looking for a breakout runner in the 5,000 and 10,000 races. Top candidates are Chris Poole, Adrian Clifford, Chris Roth and Jeff Lee.
Due to graduation and a couple of other losses, the women’s side has some significant gaps in some areas. Despite this, the Wildcats have the potential to score plenty at the NWC Championships, particularly with the talents of Dallas Edge (100/100H), Ellie Schmidt (100/200) and Kate Shear (javelin).
Edge, the school record holder and NCAA qualifier in the 100 hurdles should repeat as a big point scorer at the NWC Championships. Balancing high aspirations with some pesky tendinitis, the sophomore is on an adjusted training plan focusing solely on the sprints and hurdles, dropping the heptathlon from her competition schedule.
“We need to keep her healthy because she’s a huge part of our team,” Olson said. “We’re trying to give her the opportunity to make a run at some cool things.”
Schmidt, a Top 10 performer in both short sprints, is competing on a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the fall soccer season. But her knee is stable and all signs point toward another successful, and point-producing, season.
Newcomers Jade Everage, who also competed in basketball, Kiana Antonio and Olivia Bannerot join returners Brenna Stinson and Haley Pattishall in a deep sprinting contingent. Bannerot and Stinson are also slated to compete in the heptathlon. Stinson finished 10th in the multi-event competition a season ago and is especially strong in the 200 and long jump. Bannerot is another multi-skilled newcomer with particular prowess in the high jump.
Annie Todd is a promising talent in both the open 400 and the 400 hurdles. Madison Gladding is poised for a great sophomore year, especially in the short hurdles, after showing significant improvement during the indoor season.
Senior veteran Calli Dowdy and freshman Jaime Rodden are the frontrunners in the 800, with Dowdy also pulling double duty in the 1,500 meters. Talented freshman Kaelia Neal is a great candidate for the 1,500 and 5,000 and is “really just scratching the surface” of her potential.
Emma Knudson is expected to tackle the 10,000 meters, though she may need some extra encouragement.
“She’s going to be a good 10K runner, but just needs to come around to the mentality of that race,” Olson said. “She was a mid-distance runner in the high school and is a bit apprehensive.”
A two-time national qualifier in the javelin, Shear is the most prolific performer in the field events. Should she stay healthy, Rachael Gernhart should supply significant contributions in the triple jump.
Other promising field event specialists include Joy Harpham and Patricia Reeves in the high jump, Amanda Gibbon, Joanna Galli and Sarah Hutchison in the pole vault. Reeves, Galli and Hutchison – all freshmen – have the potential to score points with more technical coaching to convert some bad habits into good ones.
Olson expects as many as 30 women to qualify for the NWC Championships. But Linfield’s success ultimately depends on how many of those qualifiers can be point scorers as well.
“When I’m recruiting athletes I look at those I think will qualify for conference and eventually develop into point scorers for us, and I think we have good numbers there,” Olson said.
Collectively, the Wildcat women and men placed fourth and seventh, respectively, at the NWC Championships a season ago, and get the first opportunity to show well they stack up against the rest of the league at Linfield’s own Erik Anderson Memorial Icebreaker March 6-7. This year’s conference championships are scheduled for April 24-25 at George Fox.