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Comets set to soar again

With Donaldson, Dallaire anchoring another loaded squad, Crater seeks second straight district title

Geoff Donaldson's performance in the 800-meter run at last year's Southern Oregon Conference track and field meet epitomized Crater's surge to its first district championship in 20 years.

Donaldson, then a junior, shaved more than five seconds off his personal record ' an almost unfathomable improvement at that distance ' during his qualifying heat. A couple days later, he knocked another second off in the finals, clocking 1:58.87 to take second behind teammate Greg Dallaire and punch his ticket to the Class 4A state meet.

I've got to give most of the credit to my coach, says Donaldson, referring to Comets distance coach Justin Loftus. He had so much confidence in me. He's a great tactician and motivator. I went out there knowing I could do it.

The Crater boys held that same conviction as a team, winning seven of the 17 events to claim their first district title since 1984.

— Although they lost a couple of outstanding individuals, notably four-event winner Jason James and high jump champion Dan LeBel, the Comets return plenty of talent and again look like the team to beat in 2005.

Roseburg, which finished a surprising second to Crater a year ago, is primed to win its first district title since 1997 should the Comets falter.

The 800 wasn't Donaldson's only successful event at district. He also ran a leg on Crater's triumphant 4 x 400-meter relay team that clocked 3:24.58 and finished second in the high jump at 6-feet.

This spring, Donaldson will add the 1,500 to his running menu and he already has his eyes on the school record of 4:01.0

I'd love to end my senior year being remembered, and that would be a good way to do it, Donaldson says.

Donaldson will have plenty of competition without leaving Central Point. Teammate Isaac Stoutenburgh, a junior, took fifth in the 1,500 ' his best time in that event is 4:04.19 ' at district and third in the 3,000 (8:54.16).

Sophomore Jake Keyser also should be a factor in the distance events.

Stoutenburgh, Keyser and Donaldson led Crater to its first-ever district cross country championship last fall and a fourth-place finish at the state meet.

I've definitely got some competition right here on my own soil, Donaldson says. Our distance crew is going to be tough.

Another Comet to watch is senior Adam Goff, the SOC's top returning high hurdler (15.12). Goff finished third in that event last season and was also third in the pole vault, where he has a best of 13-0.

Senior Mike White, who grabbed fourth at district in the shot put with a toss of 47-3, and junior long and triple jumper Nick Nutting also return.

I don't get too excited or too down this time of year because so much can happen, Crater coach Hans Smith says. But (winning district) is a goal. The kids did it last year and they know they can do it again.

Smith said he began to have a good feeling about his team last season the day it beat South Medford in a dual meet.

We had to move some kids around to different events and I think they saw the value in that, Smith says. They're really buying into being multi-dimensional and trying new events to help the team.

Roseburg, meanwhile, came on strong late last season and seems poised for a stellar spring.

Isaiah Smith is the Indians' big gun. The senior won the district triple jump last season with a mark of 44-5. Only two other jumpers in the state return with better marks.

Smith will also long jump and high jump.

He seems stronger and a lot more confident, Roseburg coach Mike Bober says. Isaiah had good seasons in football and basketball and there's no reason to think he won't carry that over to track.

Other returning district placers for the Indians include middle distance ace Gavin Weaver; hurdlers Jacob Schott and Ben Sharp, jumper Kyle Loomis, sprinter Don Sheldon, javelin specialist John Williamson and shot putter Kyle Lacefield.

Our motto last year was that every second and every inch means something, Bober says. That was our personality at district. Isaiah was the only kid we had win an event, but we nickeled and dimed our way to second place.

I'm hoping we can pick up where we left off.

South Medford, which won the district title in 2003 and took third last year, lost three potentially big point-getters when jumpers Alex and Clint Chapman moved to Canby and sprinter Kris McMackin moved to Portland.

Our boys definitely took some hits, South Medford coach Bill Rowan says.

The Panthers top returners are Bret Hamilton (long jump), Todd Clement (discus), Seth Hernandez (800) and Zach Harris (3,000). Hamilton's sixth place in the long jump was the best district showing among the then-juniors a year ago.

Over at North Medford, seniors Steve Johnson, Josh Casebere, Ryan Weisz and Josh Bakke lead the way.

Johnson took third in the shot put (47-6&

189; ) and fourth in the discus (150-5), Casebere grabbed third in the long jump (21-2), Bakke claimed third in the high jump (5-10) and Weisz anchored the Black Tornado's 4 x 100 relay team to victory in the SOC meet.

Eagle Point could be stronger than it's been in several years if its young sprint corps comes around. Sophomore Chris Butler, freshman Brian Christian and junior transfer Ben Striklin can all scoot. Butler finished third in the 200 at district last season.

The Eagles have a pair of standouts in the field with shot put standout Jake Olson, who broke the school record last year with a toss of 55 feet, and Jered McClellan, who set the school record in the javelin with a throw of 175-4.

Pole vaulter Tommy Provost and high jumper Jake Colley also return as district placers for the Eagles.

Klamath Union has finally run out of state-caliber distance runners with the graduation of Kevin Pellegrino, but the Pelicans boast the SOC's top sprinter in Matt Porter, who finished second in the 100 as a freshman last season.

The Pelicans have another sparkling freshman this spring in Mark Brooks, who sailed to a fine early-season mark in the long jump (20-7) last week.

Grants Pass is fueled by its dandy 400 tandem of Justin Ruyle and Mark Stork, who went 2-3 at district last season.

Ashland has a new head coach in Ron Graham, who already has made his presence felt on the recruiting trail. The Grizzlies have more than 60 athletes on the track ' counting girls ' which is a marked increase from last season.

As usual, the distance events will be the Grizzlies' strength. David Morgan set a school record in the 3,000 (8:35.3) last season. He took second in district in that event and was fourth in the 1,500.

Andy Wright, fourth in the 3,000 a year ago, and Cameron Barleen also return.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail