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2012 Foothill League Girls Track and Field Preview: Catch them if you can

After six straight Foothill League titles, Saugus is still the team to beat

Posted: March 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The Saugus girls will try to win their seventh straight Foothill League championship this spring behind returning athletes such as (from left) Rachel Eaton, Chelsea Alpern, Shannon Laurin, Jenna Vincej, Karis Frankian and Jenay Jauregui.

 

It’s been almost six years since someone other than Saugus owned the Foothill League girls track and field team championship. Almost 72 months. Almost 312 weeks.

Break it down however you want. The fact is, different marks in different events have kept Saugus on top.

The Centurions are renowned for their distance program, but they’ve received plenty of contributions from the other events over the years.

They’ll need those contributions this year, because the Foothill League could be as deep as ever.

The Canyon girls, who once owned the league in their own right, return a wealth of talented, experienced athletes, and the last two years have seen surges at Golden Valley and Valencia. West Ranch has an up-and-coming group and one of the best runners in the league, and Hart is growing more competitive by the week.

All of them will provide challenges for Saugus, challenges that the Centurions must rise to meet if they want to stay on top.

Saugus

When he was hired last fall to replace Christian Standley as the head coach of Saugus High track and field, John McKenzie made it clear he wasn’t coming in to fix anything.

“What I’ve tried to do is build on the tradition of Saugus,” said McKenzie, who was one of the greatest shot putters in valley history while at Hart in the mid-1970s. “Recognize who you are. Recognize the success you’ve had.”

Some familiar faces will look to continue that success this season. Once again, the Centurions return the most potent distance-running crew in the league, led by senior Karis Frankian, who finished 20th in the state in the 3,200 last season.

The group’s confidence figures to be boosted after unexpectedly winning Saugus’ sixth straight state championship in cross country last November. McKenzie also praised distance coach Rene Paragas for helping acquaint him with the program.

“You could see that they’re very close-knit as a team, and they drive each other to be better and better,” McKenzie said.

But Saugus once again has standouts in other events.

Junior Rachel Eaton is the defending league champion in the high jump, and senior Chelsea Alpern was a CIF-Southern Section finalist in the 300 hurdles a year ago. Senior Danielle Zirbel was a Southern Section finalist in the shot put last season.

Senior Jenna Vincej returns after finishing second at the Southern Section finals in the 400 last season and winning a CIF title as a sophomore. The coaches are also high on junior sprinter Shannon Laurin.

They all give Saugus a good chance to win a seventh straight league title.

“The kids have eased me into the coaching part,” McKenzie said. “The kids are amazing.”

Canyon

The Canyon girls spent nine straight season on top of the Foothill League, a run that ended in 2004.

This year, they have the talent to get back there.

“We’re sure going to try,” said head coach Paul Broneer. “We’re going to pull out every stop we can, but they’re good. We know they’re good.”

The Cowboys return a pair of four-year varsity standouts in seniors Taylor Thomas and Tiffini Stone.

Thomas has yet to lose a league championship in the 100 and 300 hurdles in her career, and she reached the Masters Meet in the 100 hurdles a season ago. Stone, meanwhile, has been getting back into form after an extended run with the girls basketball team, and she’s been second in the Southern Section three times in her career between the long and triple jump.

Senior Janice Walker figures to be among the league’s best throwers, while senior pole vaulter Pilar Dizon has already broken Alisha Thompson’s school records in the decathlon and heptathlon.

All told, Broneer said the Cowboys have 25 seniors this season — all of whom share a common goal.

“(Saugus has) taken it to us for the past six years,” Broneer said. “Our kids are training hard with that in mind.”

Golden Valley

The Grizzlies took a big step forward by finishing second in league last season. Now, they need a new group of veterans to step up to keep the momentum going.

“We’re really young, so it’s about taking those lessons learned from last year and applying them this year,” said co-head coach Chris Evans.

The returning standouts include junior Chelsey Totten, who should be one of the league’s top distance runners, and junior Imani Dixon, who will lead the sprint team.

Senior Vanessa Brist and sophomore Caitlin Zindroski are both solid in the jumps and hurdles, and freshman Crystal Orellena has already gone 15 feet, 6 inches in the long jump and will boost the sprint corps.

Golden Valley has seen a growth in participation over the past couple years, which has led to depth that could prove critical this season.

“Last year, we had a lot of frontrunners, people who we knew were going to win a race, people who can compete for those seconds and thirds,” Evans said. “We’re more depth-based on the girls side  than we are frontrunner-based.”

Valencia

The last three years, the Valencia girls program has sent an athlete to the state meet.

So who’s next in line?

“We’ve got a couple of girls,” said Valencia head coach Jeff Gilkey. “If they develop like we think they can develop, they’ve got a shot at going. If not this year, then the next year or two. The future’s looking very good right now.”

Returning junior Maddie Dignadice should be a force in the distance races, and junior Olivia Pear will provide solid depth there as well. Sophomore Briana Pica will be competitive in the pole vault.

Like at other schools in the Foothill League, Valencia’s numbers have grown over the past couple years. Gilkey said that numerous athletes from other sports, including soccer and basketball, have come out for the team this year.

The individual successes of the past few years have had something to do with that.

“We’ve talked about how it’d be nice to go down a little bit, but how do you turn away talent?” Gilkey said. “Track is the sport that we get as many people into meets as we can.”
   
West Ranch

One spot. That’s all that separated now-senior Ashley Welker from reaching the state finals in the 800 last season.
This season could be different.

“She’s fully fit,” said West Ranch head coach Dave Saville. “She’s flying in training. We have no reason to believe she won’t go all the way (to state).”

The Wildcats are hoping her example will inspire others.

After going winless in league last season with a young team, West Ranch has high hopes for its athletes this season.

Senior Lauren Ross will anchor the sprinters, while junior Xiomara Perkins, a transfer from Valencia, will run the intermediate distances. Sophomore Taylor Welker, Ashley’s younger sister, returns in the distance races, and junior Ashile Foster and sophomore Madison Moore will boost the throws.

Last spring, West Ranch employed a tryout system for the first time in order to cut what Saville calls the “social athletes” out of the program.

“We’ve gone through the same process this year, but we’re a much deeper squad,” he said. “That’s a year of experience and getting to know the way around dual meets and invitationals, and they’re much more confident when they go out.”
   
Hart
After former head coach Larry David resigned to take on a reduced role as an assistant coach, Hart turned to former Indians star Alfredo Coronado to coach the girls team.

“I think he’s done real well,” David said of Coronado, who’s still familiarizing himself with the team. “Every day at practice, I see different girls coming to ask him questions.”

A bulk of the Indians’ returning talent is on the track. Senior Kelsey Steck and junior Presley Lambert will be the top sprinters, while junior Morgan Pedrick could run the 200, 400 and 800.

Seniors Abby Gunning and Genna McCarthy will lead the distance team, and senior Paige Forbes will be the team’s top hurdler.

Hart beat West Ranch during last season, and David said the team hopes to keep moving on the upward trajectory.

“We just want to build on the last couple years of improvement,” David said. “If we lose in league, at least make them closer and keep that momentum going.”

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