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Cavemen could be team to beat in SOC

GP builds around talented sprinters; Don't count out defending champion Crater

It should be a wide-open race to the championship at this spring's Southern Oregon Conference boys district track and field meet.

Such a scenario is nothing new. Grants Pass, North Medford, Klamath Union, South Medford and Crater took turns winning titles from 2000 through 2004. Then the Comets had the gall to win two in a row.

Who's the favorite in 2006? We'll give Grants Pass the nod, with the two Medford schools and Crater hot on its heels.

Who's the best individual performer? That would be Crater senior Isaac Stoutenburgh, a national-caliber distance runner who has earned a scholarship to Oregon.

And if you're looking for a comeback athlete-of-the-year award, a leading candidate is North Medford senior Johnny Vaigafa, a 6-foot-2, 325-pound senior shot putter and discus thrower who wasn't in school at this time last year.

— Grants Pass placed fifth at district last spring and hasn't won a title since 2000, but the Cavemen are loaded with sprinters, who will branch out to the hurdles, jumps and relays.

Juniors Dusty Parrish and Terry Hodder and senior Mark Stork form the team's nucleus. The threesome ran on GP's 4x400-meter relay squad that finished second at the Class 4A state meet in a school-record time of 3:23.02.

Parrish appeared as though he had a rocket-booster attached to his back at the state meet as he ran a 49-second anchor split. His best open time was the 51.04 he ran to get second at district.

What Dusty did as a sophomore was impressive, Grants Pass coach Carl Sniffen says. But he's not satisfied. He wants to break the school records in the 400 and 800.

Parrish participated in cross country last fall and isn't intimidated by longer distances.

He's a very efficient runner, Sniffen says. He's so smooth that he doesn't look like he's going that fast, but he is.

Stork will add the javelin to his sprint menu while Hodder will tackle the jumps and the hurdles in addition to the short races.

The fourth member of GP's 4x400 relay team likely will be Johnny Ray, who sat out most of last season with knee injuries but returned in time to break 53 seconds in the 400.

Johnny is a mentally tough and fearless runner, Sniffen says. He's just the type of kid you like on the relay because he'll leave it all on the track.

Football players Matt Divert and Ryan Peterson are also wearing spikes this spring, giving the Cavemen quality depth in the sprints.

We're moving the sprinters all around trying to find them other events, Sniffen says. If you've got a kid who can run a strong 400, you know he's capable of running the hurdles and doing the jumps and other events as well. (The 400) is a great place to start a track team.

Senior Kenny Lathen, who finished second in the high jump at district last season with a mark of 6-1, senior shot putter Tyler Dungey, junior pole vaulter Spencer Fogelquist and junior triple jumper Shane Mahr give GP added strength in the field events.

The ingredients are quite possibly there to make a run (at the district title), says Sniffen, admitting that GP could be weak in the distance events. How we mix them together remains to be seen.

Here's a look at the rest of the SOC, in predicted order of finish:

CRATER: Distance aces Stoutenburgh and Jake Keyser will fuel Crater's bid for a third straight title.

Stoutenburgh has had a busy offseason, most recently participating at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in New York and the Nike Indoor Nationals in Baltimore.

Stoutenburgh shattered school records in the 1,500 (3:53.99) and the 3,000 (8:30.74) last year while finishing fourth in a loaded state meet in the former and fifth in the latter.

Isaac knows how to crank into a higher gear at any time during a race, Crater distance coach Justin Loftus says. What he's working on is to being able to maintain that gear once he cranks into it.

Keyser showcased his athleticism during the high school hockey season when he was named MVP of the league. He could push Stoutenburgh this season, especially in the 1,500 where his slightly superior kick could come into play.

Regardless, the two standouts should go 1-2 at the district meet in the 1,500 and 3,000.

What the Comets need to secure a third straight title is for athletes like Nick Nutting, Tyler Beck, Joe LeBel and Charles Fehl to step up. Nutting, a senior who finished third in the triple jump, fifth in the long jump and sixth in the 100 last season at district, has the potential to score huge points.

Beck logged a big personal best of 43-0&

189; to take second in the triple jump last year. LeBel, who was seventh in the high jump, and Fehl, who was seventh in the 200, look vastly improved, Crater head coach Hans Smith says.

It's time for these kids to step up, Smith says.

SOUTH MEDFORD: The Panthers don't look as strong on paper as several other teams, but veteran coach Bill Rowan has a knack for getting the most out of his athletes.

Seniors Bret Hamilton and Tony DeSimone headline a fine group of returnees. Hamilton won the 200 (22.67), finished second in the 100 (11.39) and third in the long jump (20-10&

189; ) at district in 2005, while DeSimone was fourth in the triple jump and looks primed for a breakout year in the sprints and jumps.

Travis Pattan (pole vault), Paul Rapet (400, 800), Luke Wolfe (hurdles), Jesse Bright (1,500) and Zach Harris (3,000) round out a solid group of seniors.

Two freshmen to watch are Steve Adams in the shot put and discus and Griff Bisbee in the high jump and long jump.

NORTH MEDFORD: The Black Tornado returns a district champion in Brian Beadle, and it boasts lots more manpower to make a run under second-year coach Pete Voskes.

Beadle shattered the school record in the javelin with a toss of 199-5 and finished eighth at state.

Almeir Barlow might be the best young sprinter in the SOC after finishing third in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at district last season as a freshman.

He's one of those kids you've really had to push in the past, says Voskes of Barlow, but finally he's starting to lead workouts and be aggressive. That's exciting.

Other returning district placers include Zach Russell in the javelin and Jason Slowey in the shot put. North Medford could field an excellent group of throwers with football and wrestling standout Tim Endecott and Vaigafa joining the team.

And unlike past seasons, the Tornado will have a competent crew of distance runners led by sophomore Richard Zhu and junior Rick Nielsen, who was fourth at last fall's district cross country meet.

Freshmen Jordan Ellis (high jump, long jump) and Josh Pecktol (triple jump, high jump) will also contribute.

ROSEBURG: The Indians return just 10 lettermen, but one of them is Adam Brink, who won the state pole vault title last year as a sophomore. Brink, who cleared 15 feet at the state meet, is aiming for 16 this season.

That's realistic, says second-year coach Jim Moyer. He's been over 15-6 in practice on a cold day.

Roseburg has another quality vaulter in Eli Hanna and should get big production from Kyle Loomis in the high jump and javelin. Loomis is headed to Oregon State on a football scholarship as a kicker.

KLAMATH UNION: Junior Matt Porter returns as the district champion in the 100 and the runner-up in the 200, and senior Joe Hill is back as the reigning high jump champion.

Look for junior Jon Saxton to excel in the pole vault and junior Chris Reed to surprise folks in the distance events.

But the Pelicans lost one of their better athletes, Mark Brooks, to baseball and standout freshman thrower Nick Brandt is out for the season with a leg injury.

EAGLE POINT: The Eagles' strength is the hurdles, where seniors Jake Colley and Loren Pickard and sophomore Jake Ringrose will strut their stuff. Colley is also a quality high jumper ' he was third at district last season ' and Ringrose is a capable vaulter.

ASHLAND ' The Grizzlies have a handful of athletes who are destined for productive seasons, led by Cameron Barleen, the No. 2 returner in the 800 (2:01.37).

Senior Jaxon Williams is the SOC's top returner in the discus (fourth, 133-0) and senior Ryan Pittman is among the district's best high jumpers.

Spencer Bonney is the latest in a long line of quality Ashland distance runners.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail Cavemen could be team to beat in SOC"dhunt@mailtribune.com.