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SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW: Big teams, big dreams
Even if they don't win every meet this year, the South Whidbey boys and girls high school track teams should scare the cleats off the competition based on the size of the team bus alone.
With 85 runners, throwers and jumpers out for the teams, Falcon track and field is a success story that breeds success. Coming off their two consecutive conference championships and top-three state performances for both teams in 2001, the Falcons are fielding the biggest combined team in school history.
Having lost five athletes to graduation who were responsible for most of the points South Whidbey scored at state, bigger is probably better this year. But don't be fooled -- there's plenty of talent in those huge groups of athletes running around the track every day after school.
If any team in the state is coming back with a high fear factor this year, it is the Falcons. After a successful indoor track season in which several boys set career marks, the boys seem ready to take control of the middle distance races this year. Senior Joe Candelario goes into the season ranked as the second-fastest quarter-miler in the state, while junior Brandon Bilyeu is in the top six in the 800-meter run. In the sport's longest race, the 3,200, junior James Sundquist is quietly poised to run with the lead pack at April's North Cascades Conference Championship.
Though depleted by graduation, the team's flagship event, the 4x400 relay, is still in good shape. Candelario and sprinter Andy Wills are back as two members of the state record-holding team, and are soon to be joined by Bilyeu and possibly sophomore Nick Plastino.
In the field, jumpers will earn the points that will swing meets in the Falcons' favor. Back from a year-long Rotary exchange in Australia, senior Colin Murphy will go back to high- and long-jumping for South Whidbey, along with sophomore Kyle McGillen, who would like a trip to state this year.
Falcon head coach Doug Fulton said the team is still developing a new crop of triple jumpers, pole vaulters and throwers -- all necessary for a team with its sights set on championships.
Fulton said the boys should win another NCC championship this year, as long as they can wade through challenges from Lakewood and Mount Baker.
Girls got it all
Undefeated in NCC dual meets since 2000, the lady Falcons are the team to beat in 2002. Though they are without Andrea McGillen, who won 2001 state championships in the triple jump and pole vault, the girls team hasn't lost all its talent in the intervening year.
Sophomore Katie McGillen will again be one of the team's big guns, with potential to win the long jump and high jump at almost any meet. Junior Kellie Horn could give the Falcons total dominance at the high jump pit if she hits the heights she made early last season.
As always, the core of the Falcon team is wrapped around distance events. Senior Karen Schwager is currently ranked as one of the top eight 1,600 runners in the state, while junior miler Julie Gabelein will be her shadow second and occasional usurper all year. Younger runners who had breakout performances on the cross country team last fall are also expected to help pile up scoring points.
Schwager said she is up for having a big pack of solid runners on the track.
"We have a lot of depth, a lot of talent," she said this week.
Another secret to the team's success will be the fortunes of the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relays. Still in possession of career team runners Lindsay Binford and Melissa Poolman, the Falcons should make the baton fly this year, provided they can find the right underclassmen to fill vacancies left by graduates McGillen and Dail Bates.
Binford said she and her teammates pretty much have the competition figured out.
"We're going against pretty much the same people as last year," she said.
Also bringing talent to the team are hurdlers Emily Bartlett, Caitlin Robinson and Becky Gabelein, junior sprinter Claudia Gil-Osorio, and distance runner Nancy Godsey.
Coach Fulton, who is normally conservative with performance predictions during the pre-season, said he and his seven-member coaching staff are gunning for three-peats in the NCC.
The Falcons quest begins Thursday in a home jamboree meet at Waterman Field. Start time for that event is 3:30 p.m.