WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi opened the track season with high expectations as coach Eric Hisaw greeted 82 boys and 74 girls to the opening of Blue Devil track.
"I've been as impressed as I've been in my 14 or 15 years here," Hisaw said of early season workouts. "They (the athletes) have just flat gotten to work. It's been fun to watch them get after things. It's been a great start."
With that many athletes, logistics becomes a challenge as coaches try to get the best out of each athlete in his or her events, but Hisaw's staff has the athletes focused on the upcoming season.
"We have a coach for every event," Hisaw said. "There's nothing that goes by that's not supervised. The kids get coached. We're really fortunate in the number and quality of staff we have.
"The kids do a good job of understanding the organizational process and what they've got to get done for each event," Hisaw continued. "It all balances out pretty well. We steer them, but a lot of it is on them."
The Blue Devils sent seven athletes to the state meet in 2011, and graduated three of those seven. Sydney Christensen placed fourth in the discus at the state meet, Kailee Davisson qualified in the 400 meters and was a member of the 4X400 relay team, and Aaron Nelson competed in the 1600.
The Blue Devil cupboard is not bare - it may be a little thin in a couple of events - but overall the boys and girls teams appear to be deep and talented.
"The boys team could be as good as we've been and maybe better," Hisaw said. "We're a high jumper short right now as our returner, Miguel Torres, moved. We've got to find that, but other than that from the sprints to the hurdles to distance, we've got every piece of the puzzle covered. We are rock solid everywhere. We have great depth in a lot of events. We have state-meet caliber performers in a lot of events. It could be a special guys' team."
The hurdles (110 meter highs and 300s), are anchored by returning seniors Kyle Jameson and Blake Gerling. Fellow senior Malachi Matthews is expected to step up to contribute to the hurdling crew.
"Kyle and Blake are the two best 110 and 300 hurdlers in the region," Hisaw said. "They both have a chance to get to the west side (state). Malachi has had a great offseason and is in tremendous shape. With those three guys, we'll be tough to deal with in a league meet. They are tough, strong, and extremely competitive."
The sprint corps is led by returners junior Jonah Hoe and sophomore Stewart Gillin. The Blue Devils will count on those two to lead the charge in the 100, 200, 400 and the relays.
"They both ran well late last year," Hisaw said. "We can cover a lot (of events) with those guys. They are both good enough to run any of those races and compete with anybody in our league except Wenatchee's Isaiah Brandt-Sims, who is going to be the best sprinter the state has ever seen."
The Blue Devil distance contingent is led by senior John-Paul Wolpert, who will be joined by fellow seniors Gregory Heller and Ty Hafen with first-time track runner, senior Sean Hollenbeck, throwing his spikes into the distance mix. Junior Sean Newcomb and freshman Ben Wolpert round out a strong distance corps for the Blue Devils.
"J P (Wolpert) has had a phenomenal off season," Hisaw said of his returning distance anchor. "He has a real chance to threaten our school mile record. He has been a real leader for us in the off season. There are a lot of kids that have fallen under his shadow and run with him.
"Our distance crew is as strong as it has ever been going into our track season," Hisaw continued. "We've got kids that can run any distance and we can mix around (in the distance races). It'll make us really tough. We'll try to hone them in (to their specialty) in late April and get them ready for district."
Junior Logan Reardon looks to lead the Blue Devils in the field. Reardon will compete in all three throws - javelin, shot put, and discus. Juniors Zach Gilvey and Nik Miner will join Reardon in the javelin.
"Logan has a chance to have a really big year for us," Hisaw said. "They (Reardon, Miner, Gilvey) will be a dynamic javelin group for us."
In the discus, Wa-Hi will look to Reardon, senior Shaunte Brown , and juniors Jeremy Larson and Quinn Piver to lead the charge.
"We have four kids capable of throwing in the mid-130s," Hisaw said of his discus throwers. "A couple of them have the ability to throw in the high 140s."
With Reardon and Piver back, the Blue Devils return their two best shot putters from 2011 to lead the shot put into the 2012 battles.
Junior Peter Sirmon returns to lead the Blue Devil pole vaulters. Fellow juniors Garret Kenny and Parker Toon will be in the hunt for additional Blue Devil pole vault points.
"Peter looks like he did at the end of the year," Hisaw commented. "He looks like he is ready to take off. He worked hard in the off season. I'm excited for his opportunity."
Hoe, who went to state as a freshman and is a 21 foot jumper, Sirmon, and Darnell Handcox head up the Blue Devil long jumpers. Sirmon and Handcox will be looked upon to carry the load in the triple jump as well.
Hisaw will look to add depth behind Sirmon and Handcox and will use spring to find high jumpers to round out a competitive boys team.
On the girls side, seniors Jocelyn Vargas, Maddie Jacobson, Elizabeth Wood, and Megan Thompson look to lead the 2012 Blue Devils into the Columbia Basin Big Nine track season.
Hisaw sees the Blue Devil distance crew as being a strength of the girls team.
"They could be tough," Hisaw said of his distance runners. "We have a lot of kids back that are off a solid cross country team."
Vargas will provide the senior leadership for the distance corps. Seniors Mckelle Wilwand, and Ashley Taylor will step into leadership roles. Junior Rachel Nelson, a three-time state cross country qualifier, will look to take the next step in her running career. Three sophomores - Catherine Feistner, Lea Davidson, and Hannah Hampson - will look to continue last fall's cross country success into the spring season.
"They can cover everything," Hisaw said. "Their best race, (if it were a race), would be a 4X3200 relay. They are all going to be in the 5:20's in the mile. It's an exciting group."
The girls 4X400 state-qualifying team returns with the exception of Davisson, but juniors Maggie Callan, Dominique Cox, and Ashley Corina all return and will be looked to lead the relay as well as leading the Blue Devil sprint corps.
"We bring back three great ones," Hisaw said of the relay team. "The kids want to get on that relay. It makes kids work in practice. It's a neat team event. We're going to have a really good 4X4."
Sarai Seekamp is the only senior member of a young but experienced and talented Blue Devil sprint group. Junior Brittany Gibbar returns to her spot in the 100 and 200.
Junior Jami Klicker anchors the 100 hurdles and Corina leads the 300 hurdles. Junior Anna Pettyjhohn and Seekamp will be counted on for hurdle points.
"We can run them anywhere (sprints or hurdles) and be competitive with anybody," Hisaw said of his sprinters and hurdlers. "Our (No. 1 and 2) may be as good as anybody in the league, except for the Wenatchee sprint group which will be really tough. I expect us to be very fast."
Wa-Hi returns its three best long jumpers from the 2011 campaign. Corina leads the group with Hanna Burns and Wood also returning to the mix.
The Blue Devils lost triple jumper Jacobson to a basketball knee injury, and will rely on Wood to carry the triple jump banner.
"Ashley (Corina) is our best long jumper and is returning which is a nice problem to have," Hisaw said. "Triple jump is tough as we lost our two best (Torri Crawford and Jacobson). Wood and Burns will be very solid. Liz (Wood) has a chance to be awfully good for us."
Wood brings back the only experience to the girls high jump and the search for a pole vaulter is ongoing.
"Liz is our only returning experience (in the high jump)," Hisaw added. "That puts pressure on her and she's just got to step up and take care of it. We've got to find a girl pole vaulter. We've got kids trying, we've just got to find one that can do it."
In the throws, javelin district champion and state qualifier Jacobson returns to lead the way despite the knee injury.
"Luckily, the injury is not her plant leg," Hisaw said of Jacobson's injury. "They (doctors) said she could throw. We'll bring her along slowly and make sure she's comfortable. If she can get strength in it (the knee), she's going to have a great year."
Senior Megan Thompson and sophomores Marie Hollowell and Jessie Shives, round out the Blue Devil javelin hopefuls.
"Those four could all be over 100 feet," Hisaw said. "Maddie could be very special."
Thompson leads the discus throwers. Fellow senior Marrissa Huffman, junior Lauren Wardwell, and sophomores Shives, and Katarina Tondavong will be competitive throwers.
In the shot, Burns leads the way.
"Megan (Thompson) is throwing (the discus) very well," Hisaw commented. "She's a great senior leader. We're expecting big things from Meg and I know she'll respond very well. Those five love the disc and have a great work ethic. I expect all five to throw darn near a 100 this year.
"We're kind of thin in the shot put," Hisaw continued. "Hannah (Burns) is incredibly strong and explosive. She has a chance to be really good."
Hisaw sees Wenatchee as the team to catch on both the boys and girls side, but his Blue Devils, along with Richland and Eisenhower, look to be in the mix.
"Wenatchee is so good on the track with their top kids," Hisaw said. "We have to be able to execute and stay healthy. If we can have strong relays, I think we'll be tough to deal with."
The Blue Devils kick off Saturday at the Sweeney Invite in Lewiston.