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Danielle Michael clears 9-00 to tie for eighth place in the pole vault at this year’s state championships. Michael is one of eight returning Crook County athletes who placed at this year’s state meet.
Going into the 2013 season, the Crook County High School track and field team was long on numbers, but short on experience.
As a result, the team had some growing pains early in the year, but when all was said and done, head coach Ernie Brooks was more than satisfied with the season.
“We are a young, big team that had a learning curve,” he said. “I think we met and exceeded expectations. It’s easy being excited about track and field with the kind of kids that we have, the enthusiasm that they show, and the work ethic that they have.”
Brooks noted that the team continued to improve throughout the course of the season, notching wins at the Icebreaker Invitational as well as at meets in Glide and Vale.
“Usually we don’t win a lot of meets,” he said. “But this year, we had three victories.”
In addition, the team set more PR’s (personal records) than any team that Brooks can recall coaching. The team set 720 PR’s over the course of the season, including 52 at the Greater Oregon League District Championships.
“With a big team, you rack up big numbers, but this team was special,” Brooks said. “At district, kids were just going above and beyond where we thought they would be and the same thing at state.”
Crook County took 13 individuals to the state track meet and 10 of them placed. The other three just missed out on placing at the meet. All three were members of the boys 4x400 relay team, which finished in ninth place — just .06 seconds out of the final podium position.
Even more exciting to Brooks than the high number of placers at the state meet is how many of them will be back again next season. Seven of the eight Cowgirls who placed at the state meet this year will be back again next season.
They will be led by Laken Berlin, who placed third in the long jump, just missed making the finals in the 100-meter dash, and ran a leg on the Cowgirls 4x100-meter relay team, which broke the school record at the state meet while placing fifth.
All four members of the relay squad will also be back again next year. Although Berlin was the only one of the four to qualify for the state meet as an individual, the remaining three still gained valuable experience.
Team members, Madeline and Audrey Bernard, each showed improvement throughout the season. The final member of the team, McKenzie Zirbel, qualified for the state meet as an individual in both her freshman and sophomore years. Zirbel suffered an injury midway through this season and did not return to the squad until the district meet. Consequently, she only competed on the relay team this year. However, Brooks believes that she will be back to form and completely healthy for next season.
Throwers Hannah Troutman and Kathryn Kaonis should also be serious contenders for the Cowgirls next season. Neither athlete had competed in the throwing events prior to this year. Still, in spite of their inexperience, Troutman placed fifth in the javelin, while Kaonis placed seventh in the shot put.
Troutman also qualified for this year’s state meet in the high jump, but chose not to compete in the event. Kaonis, also normally competes in multiple events, however a late season leg injury prevented her from competing in any additional events at this year’s district championships.
Danielle Michael is also expected to have an impact next season. Michael has won the district championship in the pole vault each of the last two seasons, and this year finished tied for eighth place at the state meet. Michael also runs hurdles and sprints for the Cowgirls.
The final Cowgirl to place at this year’s state championship was senior Molly Viles, who earned a sixth-place finish in the discus. Viles is one of just four Crook County track and field seniors who are four-year members of the team.
Brooks noted that all four provided valuable leadership for the team.
“It pays off when you stick it out for four years,” he said. “They were team leaders and all four of them either placed at the district or state meets.”
Shot putter, Daniel Keiffer, was the lone four-year senior who didn’t qualify for the state meet. Sprinter, Alonzo Lopez, also missed qualifying for the state meet in both the 400-meter dash and the 300 intermediate hurdles. However, he did run a leg on the Cowboys 4x400 relay team. The final four-year member of the Cowboy track team was Chance Sutfin, who placed at state in both the shot put and discus.
Also gaining valuable state meet experience for the Cowboys were Grayson Munn, Luis Rivera, and Jesse Santiago.
Munn placed sixth in the 1,500-meter run and also competed in both the 3,000-meter run and as a member of the Cowboys 4x400 relay team. Rivera, who won the Greater Oregon League championship in the 800, ran a personal-best time at the state meet, but failed to make the finals. Rivera also ran a leg on the relay team, as did Santiago.
Brooks noted that several other members of the track team should also have a major impact next year.
Shot putter, Zach Smith, surprised everyone by taking third at district this year despite being just a sophomore. Smith, who also throws the discus, is expected to be even bigger and stronger next year.
Brooks also mentioned sprinters Zane Abrams and Sam Santiago as possible threats next season.
“The level of competition on this team is rising,” he said. “We are definitely on the upswing for the next few years.”
Brooks is also excited about his coaching staff, noting that most of them have been together for several years now, and the group is working well together.
“I would put my coaches up against anyone when it comes to loving the kids and teaching the fundamentals,” he said.
Several members of the staff competed in track and field at CCHS, and have stayed involved in the program. One of those coaches is Izzy Bonanno, who competed in the hurdles, and has coached hurdles the last three years. Bonanno is leaving the program after this year to pursue a college education at Southern Oregon State College.
“I will be sad to see her go,” Brooks said.
Although Bonanno will be missed, Brooks is still excited about the future.
“This season was a huge success for us,” he said. “I think this season, we took a huge step forward in what we are trying to do. We want to build a program like Summit and Marshfield and I think that we are moving in the right direction. Hopefully, we can keep this young group together and make a run at the district championship and place higher at state next year.”