Getting results from big-time performers is key to Linfield’s plans to match or improve upon third-place team finishes in the Northwest Conference. Linfield enters the 2017 season with great opportunity, but head coach Travis Olson and his staff must help the Wildcats maximize their potential in a host of events.
On the women’s side, eight program top-10 performers and 10 returning league finalists should help the Wildcats make a big push to overcome favorites George Fox and Whitworth for the Northwest Conference championship.
Among Linfield’s greatest assets is an enviable hurdle and sprint contingent, led by five-time NCAA qualifier Dallas Edge. The senior seeks a third 100-meter hurdle title and a repeat top-eight finish in the 100 meters, as well as all-America honors, in her final season.
Madison Gladding and Kycie Richwine are two other top returners for the Wildcats in both hurdle events, and freshman Baylie Cameron bolsters Linfield’s depth in the 400 hurdles. Gladding and Cameron should also factor into the relays.
Making the finals of the 100-meter hurdles is just one possible outcome for the multi-dimensional Madeline Shirley, who should compete for the heptathlon title and rack up plenty more points in the jumps and throws. Managing the sophomore’s massive workload, however, is key to maximizing her results.
“We need to make sure we hold her back and find the right places for her to compete for us, because if we do too much it’ll take away from her main stuff,” Olson said. “But she’s going to be a big part of our team, no doubt about it.”
Jade Everage remains a probable finalist in the 100 and a key member of the 4x100 relay, while Taylor Petersen is poised for a breakout year in the open 400. Petersen also could score in the high jump, a new event in which she is showing great promise.
Steady veterans and all-region cross country performers Kaelia Neal, Emma Knudson and Courtney Beard anchor the distance crew. Neal should repeat as a dual finalist in the 800 and 1500 meters, while Knudson and Beard tackle the tough 5/10K double.
Over in the field events, Linfield has potential point scorers, including a handful of championship contenders, in every event. Perhaps the most exciting area is the throws.
“This is new territory for us,” Olson said. “We haven’t had throwers like this.”
Freshmen MaKenzie Mize, Sara Miles and Josie Knight have great potential to make some noise in the Northwest Conference. Mize should have an immediate impact on Linfield’s outlook in the discus, while Knight and Miles have dangerous potential in the shot put. With focused coaching and improve technique, freshmen Molly Danielson, a basketball standout for the Wildcats, and Mikayla Bradley could also evolve into scoring threats in both events their first year.
The returners loom large, as well. Shirley is a returning NWC finalist in the shot put, while Kailey Wright should return to the podium in the hammer throw and has already shown improvement in the shot put and discus.
Jordyn Brugler and freshman Morgan Chamberlain are Linfield’s best scoring chances in the javelin. Chamberlain’s repertoire also includes the hammer throw.
A wide-open title race in the pole vault provides even more tantalizing opportunity for the Wildcats to contend for a team championship. Olivia McDaniel continues to increase her capacity for handling significant height increases and has the potential to make nationals. Freshman Julie Rockenbaugh is another prospective podium finisher, and the Wildcats also return Joanna Galli, now healthy after a year away from the sport.
Talented heptathlete Mehana Sabada-Halpern is among the favorite to capture the triple jump title, pegged as a repeat finalist in the long jump and gaining more consistency in the high jump, an event in which she could also score points at the conference meet.
Over on the men’s side, the Wildcats are admittedly not as deep. But if Linfield makes the most of its top-end performers, particularly in the throws, and gets enough point contributions from others, the ‘Cats could also contend for a top-three finish.
Headliner and two-time national champion sprinter Jake Mihelich returns for his final season, seeking to repeat in the 400 and 200 meters and anchor both relay teams en route to a significant point total.
Among the most promising newcomers is Jonathan Irby, who could be a potential podium finisher and sub-50 second performer in the 400 depending on his ability to stay healthy.
Taylor Vicknair has demonstrated great improvements during indoor season in the short hurdles, and is poised for a great year. Along with Irby, he should also contribute in the relays.
Distance wise, Adrian Clifford is the lone returning point scorer, but the ‘Cats have the chance to score in multiple events this year. Clifford is doubling in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, while Chris Roth seeks a top-eight finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Experience is on the Wildcats’ side, as both Clifford and Roth are seniors.
Art O’Kelly and Liam Pickhardt are the team’s top middle-distance performers.O’Kelly missed the indoor season due to a study abroad excursion, but returned in great shape thanks to a dedicated training regimen.Pickhardt faces stiff NWC competition in the 800, but the freshman has great upside and a promising outlook.
“He just works his tail off and does exactly what we say,” Olson said of Pickhardt. “The training that we’re doing is a little bit different than what he did in high school, so I’m curious and optimistic to see how that will translate to the 800 and 1500.”
Like their women counterparts, the Wildcats are stacked in the throwing events. Jeff Lieder has a great shot to win both the shot put and discus, plus score points in the hammer.
“I’m really excited for him,” Olson said. “He really has come around this year to have a breakout season.”
Ryne Fuhrmark should be a big point scorer in the shot put and discus. Newcomers Asa Schwartz and Cody Mitchell have great potential in both of those events as well.
Thanks in part to some key graduations throughout the league, there is great opportunity for Drew Doxie and Alec Miller to reach the podium in the javelin. Doxie, a senior, boasts experience and nearly made the finals a season ago, while Mitchell has shown great potential in his freshman season.
Hayden Davisson is the top returning pole vaulter in the NWC. How much the senior improves upon his fifth-place podium finish depends on his continued improvement in his signature event.
Linfield opens the outdoor season by hosting the Erik Anderson Memorial Icebreaker, March 3-4.