Track team will lean on youth this season, particularly girls

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Columbia Falls senior Lacey Johns has signed a letter of intent to run cross country and track for Southwestern Community College in Coos Bay, Oregon next season. Johns ran track all four years at Columbia Falls and was on the cross country team her sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Johns, right, is pictured with her mother, Kim. (photo provided)

The Columbia Falls track teams can’t wait to take the field.

After being forced to practice indoors early in the season, the boys and girls squad has finally been able to get some time outside over the past few days, but have yet to compete in a meet. The teams were scheduled to open the season in Frenchtown over the weekend, but the event was canceled due to weather.

“Obviously, we would like to have been able to compete at that meet, but with the weather conditions, I was really concerned about injuries,” head coach Jamie Heinz said. “The last thing we need is for people to get hurt. We could have used the experience, since we are so young, but it was probably beneficial that we didn’t have the meet.”

In the meantime, the 100 athletes have been hard at work finding ways to practice inside, which may be easy for runners, but is a bit more challenging for the field events.

“We have just been forced to work on our technique in the field events. We have an indoor shot, so we have been able to work on that. For discus, we have been working on our spin and our footwork. Footwork is also something we can work on for javelin,” Heinz said.

The Wildcats will be looking to build on last year’s success season which saw the team finish fourth at the state meet, just one point out of third.

The Cats went into the last event of the meet in third, but dropped into fourth when Belgrade won the 4X400 relay. The girls will also be looking for a good showing after finishing 10th at state in 2017.

“We are very young on both our boys and girls teams. We just don’t have a lot of upperclassmen. We have used practicing indoors as an opportunity to teach a lot of basics, techniques and fundamentals and get a good foundation,” Heinz said. “We have been able to practice outside for the past three days and finally got a chance to actually work on our events.”

After not being able to practice during spring break and the weather cancellation in Frenchtown, the team held an inter-squad practice meet at home over the weekend to help prepare for actual competition.

Heinz says the formula for success is simple, just make sure the kids find an event that suits them and then work on improving performance.

“I try to make sure we are well rounded and get kids into events that we think they will be successful in. Trying to figure that out takes some time, especially with the younger kids,” he said.

According to Heinz, both squads should be strong in javelin, while the boys should also do well in pole vault and distance events.

Key returning athletes for the boys squad include Logan Kolodechuk, who was fourth in shot put and third in javelin at state last year, Ben Windauer, and Austin Green, who were second and fourth in the pole vault respectively; Tanner Grove, who was fifth in javelin and distance runner Gabe Knudsen.

A strong freshman team, including Kiara McPhee, LaKia Hill, Page Berger, Maddie Hoerner and Taylor Weaver will pair with experienced athletes Reyna Crowell and Lacy Johns in the hopes of a successful year for the girls team.

“That freshman class that came here from Deer Park is just phenomenal and they are going to be really good for us and I can’t wait to see what they are going to be able to do,” Heinz said.

While both squads will have several experienced athletes returning, both squads will also be missing key members from last year’s squads. On the girls side, that includes sophomore Kimberly Peacock, who is battling leukemia after finishing third in the state in the 3,200-meter run.

“Losing Kimberly is going to hit us hard in terms of our distance team. She was right up near the top as a freshman last season. She placed in both the mile and two mile and could have possibly won both of those races this year. Not having her is really going to hurt our chances on the girls side. Without her, we will have a huge hole that we will not be able to fill,” Heinz said. “On the boy’s side, we lost Seth Gossett, who moved away during football season. He probably would have scored for us in the sprint events and pole vault. I think our boys went from possibly being a state-title contender to us not really knowing where we are right now.”

While there is still a lot of work ahead of both teams, Heinz says he is satisfied with how the season is progressing.

“I’m happy with our team and where we are at and I think we are really getting our fundamental base down. A lot of schools have already had three track meets and we haven’t even been to one yet. We are definitely behind the 8-ball and it will take us some time to catch up in terms of meet preparation, but we have a good base to build from,” he said.

The teams were in action in Kalispell Tuesday (if the rain held off) and will be at the Missoula County Public School Meet this weekend. Next week, the team will be in Corvallis Thursday before hosting a meet Saturday.

Tennis was also supposed to hit the courts for the first time Tuesday at Flathead Valley Community College versus Whitefish.

The team this year will play most of its home matches at the college courts, said athletic director Troy Bowman.

The rest of the week looks fairly spring-like, with highs in the 40s and lower 50s, with a chance of rain nearly every day.

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