Washougal track team reloading with record numbers

Panthers return plenty of talented athletes with state meet aspirations

Washougal High freshman long-distance runner Sidney Boothby works on her form during a recent practice session.

Washougal High junior Katie Stevens and senior Scott Lees focus on their coach during a recent practice session at Fishback Stadium in Washougal.

Washougal High junior Lauren Bennett advanced to the 2A state meet as a sophomore and is focused on earning a medal this season.

Washougal's Mickhala Lowery (left) and Clara Best (right) were both part of last year's district winning 4x100 relay team and hope to improve on their state performance this season.

Washougal High junior Katie Stevens returns to the pole vault for the Panthers' track and field team after earning a fifh-place finish at the 2A state meet last season.

Washougal junior Peter Boylan is among a large group of football players who turned out for the Panthers' track nad field team this year. The Panthers' running back will compete in sprinting events and the long jump. (Photos by Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

Just 30 student-athletes turned out for Washougal track and field team in Dave Hajek’s first season as the Panthers’ coach 24 years ago. This season, a record-setting 98 student-athletes — up from 77 one year ago — showed up for the team’s first practice on Monday, March 2.

The Panthers’ recent success at the 2A state championship meet may have something to do with the increase in numbers. Last season, the Panthers’ boys 4×100 relay team of Kenny Kanthak, Arcey Harton, Brig Griffin and Ryan Davy won the state championship and broke the all-time school record in the event, and thrower Kierston De La Rocha finished her high school career by winning a state championship in the discus.

Even though they return just one of last year’s state champions (Griffin), the Panthers aren’t just larger than last season — they might be better, according to Hajek.

“Just about everywhere on this team we have someone who should make it to state and earn a medal,” he said.

Team not only big, but experienced

Returning state meet competitors include senior Judson Mansfield, one of the top hurdlers in the state who will also compete in the high jump; senior Scott Lees and junior Katie Stevens, who are among the top pole vaulters in the state (Stevens earned a fifth-place finish at last year’s state meet with a vault of 10 feet as a sophomore); and senior Gracie Dolan, who hopes to return to the state meet in the long jump and triple jump events.

“I’m excited to come back and have people come after me and prove them wrong,” Dolan said. “I’m 7 inches away from the school record in the long jump (17 feet 2 inches), so I think that’s what I’m going to focus on this year.”

Junior Lauren Bennett qualified for last year’s state meet in the 100-meter hurdles.

“I ran the first day,” she said. “It was really cool and awe-inspiring to be on such a big stage, and hopefully I will do better this year.”

Aurora Espinoza Chaney is another talented hurdler with a good chance of qualifying for the state meet.

“Aurora was hampered by injury last year, but she’s back as a junior and should contend for getting to state in the 100 and the relay events,” Hajek said.

Clara Best and Paige Moss are expected to compete for a trip to the state meet in the middle distance events, and a slew of football players have turned out to compete in the boys’ sprinting events, including running back Peter Boylan, who is running track for the first time.

“We’ve got a bunch of football guys who turned out, and hopefully we can find a few sprinters in that group,” Hajek said.

Senior three-sport athlete Jacob Davis returns to the team, but instead of using running events to train for football, like he’s done in the past, he’s looking forward to having fun in the field events this season.

“I thought it would be a fun thing to do before my high school sports career is officially over,” Davis said.

Senior Caden Lowman, freshman Sidney Boothby and sophomore Savea Mansfield are also expected to excel as distance runners.

The Panthers’ 2020 season begins on Wednesday, March 18, with the Washougal Ice Breaker meet at Fishback Stadium in Washougal.