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March 24, 2011 7:27 am

PHS track loaded with potential

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Four days before the first scheduled outdoor meet of the season, Powell High School track and field coach Scott Smith gazed out the front doors of the school building. A steady mixture of rain and snow greeted his eyes.

“Hope it gets better by Saturday,” he said. “But it doesn’t look good right now.”

To be clear, the weather might be one of the only things that doesn’t look good for the Panthers’ track program this season. Sizing things up on paper, Powell can’t be considered anything but a frontrunner in the Class 3A pack.

The Panther boys bring back 89 state meet points from their 2010 state runner-up performance. They’ll be led by two-time state outdoor high jump champion and hurdles specialist Kyle Sullivan. Sullivan finished second in both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles last spring and also ran a leg on the Panthers’ state champion 4x400 relay squad, which returns intact.

Zach Thiel (seventh in the 800 in 2010), Colby Gilmore (third in the 400, sixth in the 100) and Josh Cragoe (third in the 110m hurdles) rounded out that foursome last spring. The Panthers also return all four members of last year’s fifth-place 4x100 relay team that ran in Casper.

Also back in a Powell uniform after a four-medal performance at last year’s state track and field championships is senior Drew MaGill. The state runner-up at 100 meters last May, MaGill is coming off a strong indoor track season and hopes to improve on a performance that also saw him place third in the 200, fourth in the long jump and fifth in the triple jump last season.

Additional placewinners back for the Panthers include thrower Jacob Beuster (seventh in the discus, eighth in the shot) and Marco Borja (eighth in the 200).

With no improvement in performances or additional outside points, that group returns enough state points to establish itself as one of the top three programs in Wyoming this spring. For a group that fell short of defending its state title in 2010, however, a mere spot in the top three probably isn’t aiming high enough.

On the girls’ side, the Panthers enjoyed one of their best team performances in recent years with a sixth-place finish at the 3A state meet. The squad was poised to return 42 of its 46 state meet points this season, but suffered a pair of costly off-season injuries as Brooke Nisley suffered a snowboarding accident, while Alyssa Rodriguez underwent foot surgery.

Together, the pair were half of the Panthers’ state-championship 4x800 relay team last spring. The pair also carried the baton on the fourth-place 4x400 squad in Casper.

While the absence of both will be felt, it also does not represent a crippling blow to the Panthers’ hopes to move up the standings in Casper.

Powell returns its most decorated athlete from 2010 in Desiree Murray. Murray was  third-place finisher in the 300-meter hurdles and added a fifth place showing in the 400 and a sixth-place finish at 800 meters a year ago. She also ran a leg on that 4x400 relay.

Kendra Ostrom spent much of last year among the state’s 3A high jump leaders before finishing as the state runner-up. Ostrom also qualified in the long jump and triple jump last spring.

Kassey MacDonald brings a seventh-place finish in the long jump back to the track infield to go with her experience on both the 4x400 and 4x800 squads. Marquette McArthur spent the winter tuning up for the outdoor season as part of a sizable contingent of Panther athletes to compete in indoor track. McArthur will be looking to improve on a seventh-place finish in last year’s discus finals while also making a return to the shot put ring at state.

With between 65 and 70 athletes out for track and field this season, there are plenty of opportunties for both teams to find additional points at meets throughout the year. A possible source for some of those points could come from some of the new faces on the roster.

The Panther girls add freshman Sierra Morrow and sophomore Tally Wells, both of whom earned all-state honors at the 3A cross country meet while lifting the Panthers to a state title last fall. Having both out on the track oval could help Smith and the Panthers minimize some of the pains of the injuries to Nisley and Rodriguez.

On the boys’ side, throwers Garrett Michael and Garrett Lynch both turned heads last spring while re-writing the Powell Middle School record book. Both will be trying to follow in the footsteps of teammate Vince Sleep, who qualified for state in both the shot put and discus as a freshman last spring.

“They’ll have their work cut out for them,” Smith said. “The region is pretty strong in the throwing events this spring. There’s going to be some kids putting up numbers that would place high most years that aren’t going to look quite as impressive this spring.”

The Panthers are scheduled to open the season on Saturday in Cody. The team also has appearances slated for Worland, Lovell, Sheridan and Thermopolis in the regular season. The Panthers were forced to relocate their home invitational to Cody after structural issues arose on the PHS track.

Powell heads to Pinedale for regional competition this spring. 

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