Counting on a batch of talented veterans, including three all-Americans, and some versatile newcomers to produce the bulk of its points, Linfield also hopes for steady contributions from its supporting cast to made headway in the Northwest Conference standings.
Confidence and expectations are high for the women’s program, which registered a fourth-place effort at the 2015 NWC Championships and returns the vast majority of its roster.
“I looked during the indoor season at what everybody else had, and we’re not any less than anybody else. We have the tools and the ability to make a run at it,” said head coach Travis Olson. “It’s pretty early to say something like that, but if we do what we’re supposed to do we can score a lot of points.”
Dallas Edge is perhaps the biggest name on the women’s side. A three-time NCAA qualifier, Edge looks to recapture the 100-meter hurdle title at the NWC Championships and hopefully add another scoring finish in the open 100.
Linfield also boasts an impressive group of heptathletes, including 2015 NWC runner-up Olivia Bannerot, two-time multi-event qualifier Brenna (Stinson) Gomez as well as heralded newcomers Madeline Shirley and Mehana Sabado-Halpern.
Most importantly, all four are capable of scoring in the open events. Bannerot’s greatest individual strength is the high jump, where she and Patricia Reeves are expected to score high and challenge for a wide-open title race. Gomez is a projected finalist in both the long jump and 200 meters.
Shirley, who has Junior Olympic experience in the heptathlon, was a state triple jump champion and has talents in the shot put, long jump, relay and even the hurdle events. Sabado-Halpern, another high school state triple jump champion, could score points in the long jump and help in the relays.
Rachael Gernhart, who has the potential for a 37-foot performance in the triple jump, looks to end her Wildcat career as a four-time finalist in her signature event.
Madison Gladding, a dual top-eight finisher last season, stands a good chance to again score points in the 100- and 400-meter hurdles. Adding depth in both events is freshman Kycie Richwine.
Switching from hurdles to the throwing events is Tasha Rowland, whose strength gives Linfield a boost in the shot put. Kailey Wright returns with conference championship meet experience in the javelin – she reached the finals but just missed out on scoring – and Jordan Brugler should also factor into the mix.
Sarah Hutchison, Olivia McDaniel and Sophia Pierce are potential point contributors in the pole vault. They’ll be expected to step up if Joanna Galli, who owns the fifth highest clearance in pole vault history, is unable to compete due to injury.
Fresh off basketball season, Jade Everage is a key returner in the sprints, having made the 100-meter final a year ago. Mid-year transfer Taylor Petersen faces an uphill challenge in terms of workouts, but has the talent to score at the NWC Championships in the 200 and 400 meters.
All-region cross country performers Kaelia Neal (NCAA qualifier) and Emma Knudson have the distance events covered with doubles in the 800/1500 and 5K/10K, respectively.
Whitworth remains the favorite to repeat, but Olson still likes his team’s chances to contest for a conference championship.
“I don’t know if we can match their depth,” Olson said of the Pirates, “but we have some pretty key people and if those people do well they can score a lot of points for us.”
Similarly, the Linfield men look to some key performers to score a bulk of the points in a variety of events.
Reigning national 400-meter champion Jake Mihelich is the obvious headliner. The junior is favored to defend his 400 title at the conference meet, redeem himself in the 200 after getting nipped at the line a year ago and make a run at repeat all-America status in both events at the NCAA Championships.
Two-time NCAA qualifier and 2014 All-American Morgunn Ewing has big expectations for his final season throwing the javelin as a Wildcat.
“I’ve rarely had someone as focused as he is,” Olson said. “Sometimes it’s to a fault, as he overanalyzes a bit, but he works really hard. He’s made some good changes in his technique and is someone who can realistically win the conference title and be an all-American again.”
Linfield lost a pair of horizontal jump finalists to focus on spring football, but welcomes JC Grim as a potentially hugely impactful performer from the gridiron. A near Top-20 national performer in the indoor long jump, Grim also has triple jump experience, should be a shoe-in to score in the high jump and is a decent javelin thrower.
Veteran pole vaulters Dallas Fagen and Hayden Davisson are also potential decathlon performers. Zach Nerdin could also factor in to the multi events, as well as the hurdles.
Newcomers Max Patterson and Taylor Vicknair are the most promising talents in the 100 hurdles, while Vicknair and Clay Monahan could break through in the 400 hurdles.
In addition to Mihelich, Olson pegged several other Wildcats as key contributors in the sprints. Kane Kennedy, who has the potential to be a conference contender in the 100 meters, is also expected to factor into the 200 and both relays. Spencer Payne and Bryce Oliver are both solid 100 and 200 meter runners who could reach the finals.
Riley Moore (200/400) worked extremely hard in the offseason, while Ryan Orlandini could surprise in the 200 and also runs a good leg on the 4x400 relay.
Art O’Kelly (800) and Manuel Finley (1,500) are Linfield’s best chances to score points in the middle distances, while Chris Poole and Adrian Clifford are poised for a strong spring in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
Steven Holland has the tools to score in the high jump, and should also factor into the 4x400 relay.
Other potential scorers in the throwing events include Chris Beresford, who was a conference finalist in the javelin last year, Jeff Leider, Ryan Fuhrmark and newcomver Tony Jesko.
A top-three finish is attainable, but to do that the Wildcats must reach the 100-point plateau at the NWC Championships.
“It all comes down to one meet, and you have to perform at the right time,” Olson said. “I think we have the tools to do pretty well but it comes down to if we can at the right time.”