Since its inception, the Bob Newland Classic has witnessed a rise in popularity.

Since its inception, the Bob Newland Classic has witnessed a rise in popularity.

Today, in the ninth edition of the unique track meet that features only freshmen and sophomores, 17 Southern Oregon teams and more than 400 athletes are set to compete.

"What's exciting is we're starting to get people who are bringing their best athletes who are competing at a very high level," meet coordinator Tim Rupp said. "It's starting to be viewed as one of the top meets."

The abundance of underclassman talent is evident in a bevy of events this year.

Rogue River sophomore Cole Watson is entered in the one mile alongside South Medford freshman Ryan Perry. Watson is also entered in the 800, an event he owns the school record in after running 1 minute, 55.21 seconds at the Crater Rotary Classic. He'll be tested by Klamath Union's Kevin Hoffheins, whose time of 2:02.9 ranks third in the Southern Sky Conference.

Roseburg sophomore Lucas Corder owns the Southwest Conference's second-best 400 mark at 51.05, and South Medford's David Tucker is aiming to take down the freshman school record in the 300 hurdles.

The field events are similarly strong with five entrants with marks over 40 feet in the shot put and the top two javelin throwers in South Medford's Brett Wallan (151-2) and Jeff Hyde (140-4). South Medford freshman Brad Hooper has cleared 12-6 in the pole vault, and he'll go against St. Mary's Sean Igelman, who has cleared 12 feet.

On the girls side, North Medford sophomore Baylee Hearns, the top Southwest Conference sprinter, will run in the 100 but will not compete in the 200 as she'll join 21 of her Black Tornado teammates, including sophomore Drew Jordan, for the Oregon Relays at Hayward Field in Eugene on Saturday.

South Medford sophomore Ali Kelly holds the top mark in the SWC and among entrants in the 800 with a time of 2:21.3. Kate Folsom, a North sophomore, will battle with Henley's Alysa Castle in the hurdles.

The girls shot put features a wealth of talent, as does the javelin, which has four girls over 100 feet. Three entrants in the long jump have gone over 15 feet, led by North sophomore Ashlee Dekorte at 15-8.

Field events begin today at 4 p.m. with track events at 4:30 p.m. at South Medford.

"We want to build a program with young kids, and we want to keep them excited about competing," South Medford coach Bill Rowan said. "At invites during the season, they are forced to compete against older, more experienced kids. This is a chance for them to shine against other kids of similar ability and similar experience. It's a great community event."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com