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Speedy Tornado eyes another district title

Justine Lawson is ready to carry the torch for departed Brittany Hodges

Don't expect the North Medford girls to rule the Southern Oregon Conference district track and field scene the way they did last season.

The Black Tornado went unbeaten in dual and triangular meets, then won 10 of the 17 events at district and scored a record 204 points.

The Tornado lost many of its best athletes to graduation, including Brittany Hodges, who finished her prep career with a district record-tying 12 titles.

But buoyed by a seemingly never-ending supply of blue-chip sprinters, North Medford, which returns 73 district points, remains the team to beat.

North is still the big dog, says Klamath Union assistant coach Rob Coffman. No one can contend with their sprinters, and they've got a lot of other events covered.

— Justine Lawson, who sped to victory in the 200 meters, took second in the 400 and ran legs on both of the Tornado's winning relay teams as a freshman, anchors North Medford's jet set.

Lawson's personal record time of 59.55 seconds in the 400 last season ranked first among the state's freshmen, and her best of 26.25 in the 200 ranked fifth.

She's lean and her strength has gotten better, North Medford coach Mark Hodges says of Lawson. She definitely looks faster.

Other North Medford speed demons include junior Molly Brophy, who finished third at district in the 100 and sixth in the 200; sophomore Irene Kendig, who was fourth in the 400; sophomores Haley Godfrey, Ashley Berry and Sara Week; and senior Lisa Louie.

We've got some great competition going in the relays, Hodges says. Whoever ends up on them will have earned it.

Louie, who's been on North Medford's 4x100 relay team the past two years, is also a standout pole vaulter. She won district last season with a leap of 10 feet, 10 inches and holds the school record at 10-11.

Godfrey also exhibits versatility. She finished third at district in the high jump last year with a mark of 5-1 and already has been over 5-4 in practice.

Junior Kaila Lawson, Justine's older sister, looks like the team's top hurdler, while sophomore Brittney Dunn and senior Brianne Hwang give the Tornado a strong 1-2 punch in the distance races. Dunn finished fourth at district in the 3,000 last season and took second at the district cross country meet last fall.

Our weak point right now is the 800, Hodges says. We'll probably have to convert a sprinter.

North Medford is also rebuilding in the throwing events, although sophomore Megan Ross, who took eighth at district in the javelin, should excel in that area.

South Medford, which finished a distant second to North last year, and Klamath Union look like the two teams capable of giving the Tornado a run.

South's hopes hinge greatly on the health of senior sprinter Kaylyn Knutson. Knutson, who captured the district 100 and long jump titles last season and set a school record in the latter with a mark of 18-4&

189; , has tendinitis in one of her knees and has yet to practice this spring.

She'll be evaluated after spring break and hopefully we'll get some good news, South Medford coach Bill Rowan says.

South Medford lost another sprinter before the season began when sophomore Chelsie O'Neill tore her ACL.

The Panthers' other top returner is junior Jan Frodsham, who sped to a district title in the 300 hurdles last season. Frodsham teams with junior Katrina Stevens to give the Panthers the best hurdling tandem in the SOC. Stevens placed fourth in the 100 hurdles and sixth in the 300.

April Bradshaw, a senior who went to state in the 800 two years ago, anchors South Medford's middle distances.

Sophomore Andrea Herman and senior Brittany Farrer both placed in the shot put and discus last season, and senior Katie Singler placed in the javelin for the Panthers.

Senior Kelley Whitten is a three-time district placer in the 400.

Our nucleus is good, but we don't have the balance to fill all the events, Rowan says. We'll be filling in with freshmen, and that takes awhile.

A team on the rise is Klamath Union. The Pelicans return three district placers in the sprints ' senior Claire Edwards, junior Lydia Marsalli and sophomore Sara Amos.

Senior Cassondra McDonnell, who took third at district in the 800 two years ago before coming down with strep throat last year, will be a factor in the middle distances.

The Pelicans' distance crew is also solid with seniors Jessica Wood and Lorene Young and sophomore Anna Gomez, a sister of former KU distance star Jacob Gomez. Anna Gomez was third at the district cross county meet last fall.

Senior Kellianne Kleeman returns in the hurdles, where she placed third at district in the 300 intermediate event last year; junior Blake Stearns is back in the high jump, where she placed second at district and state last year; and senior Stevie Denton is back in the throws.

Denton launched a fine early-season mark of 36-6 in the shot put at the Basin Relays last week.

We're weak in the discus and javelin and we don't have an experienced vaulter, but on the track we cover really well, Coffman says. We might surprise some people.

Grants Pass also returns top-notch talent, notably two-time defending district 800 champion Katelyn VanBrunt, who sped to a 2:16.08 clocking last season.

We're going to see if we can't win a state championship with her, Grants Pass coach Carl Sniffen says. She has that kind of talent.

The Cavers will put together a dynamite 4x400 relay team with Van Brunt and juniors Amanda Straw, Courtney Cameron and Audrey Richardson all returning. Straw has also cleared 5-3 in the high jump.

GP also has of a pair of capable pole vaulters in Amanda Potts (10-4) and Danielle Miller (9-3).

Roseburg's Val Groshong is the SOC's premier thrower. The senior has gone 38-6 in the shot put, 110-11 in the discus and 126-5 in the javelin, where she placed eighth at state last season.

The Indians' other top point-getters are Megan Cavens (shot put), Beth David (sprints), Kalista Harrison (sprints), Korissa Mecham (hurdles), Tracey Filley (high jump) and Lacy Bitter (high jump).

Crater's top competitor is senior Kendel Nelson, who placed second in the 1,500 and 3,000 at district last year and won the district cross country meet last fall.

Ashland returns defending district high jump champion Hannah Clark along with middle distance standout Natalie Hemphill, who took second in the 800 at district in 2004.

Eagle Point will pin its hopes on junior sprinters Lindsay Joliffe and Khiara Wagner along with freshmen sprinters Jenna Boren, Lindsey Nesburg and Ellery Kaiser.

Boren is also a standout pole vaulter ' she won the middle school district title with a mark of 10-3 last year.

Sophomore Alyssa McClellan returns as the second-leading javelin thrower in the SOC and junior Reilly Johnston should score a lot of points in the javelin, high jump, triple jump and hurdles.

North Medford?s Justine Lawson, front, leads a group of talented sprinters that include: Sara Weeks, middle left, Molly Brophy, middle right, Kaila Lawson, back left, Ashley Berry, back middle and Lisa Louie. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven