WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla High School track team heads to the Lewiston Invitational on Saturday having already hosted the Blue Devil Invitational last weekend at Martin Field.
Last weekend’s event gave Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw his first look at this year’s team in competition, which features 175 athletes looking to repeat last season’s success.
“I’m looking forward to this spring for a lot of great reasons,” Hisaw said this week. “We are going to have super leadership in every event. Some of our leaders will not be seniors, and that’s just fine.
“We have some great sophomores and juniors that are going to be counted on heavily this spring, and they need to rise up to the challenges ahead.”
Last year’s Blue Devil boys team won the Mid-Columbia Conference title for the 10th time in the last 14 years, with the girls coming in fourth.
Top Wa-Hi finishers at the state meet included Maddy Sirmon’s title in the javelin, Kat Tonhdavong’s second in the discus, the boys 4x100 relay taking third, and Peter Sirmon’s fifth in the pole vault.
This year’s Blue Devils bring a different look.
“The boys team lost a fantastic group of throwers and vaulters,” Hisaw said. “We lost our top four javelin, shot and disc kids to graduation, and our top two pole vaulters, as well as our top three high jumpers. Those are gigantic holes to fill.
“However, we have kids working really hard to take those places,” he said. “Donovan Romero and Lucas Rassbach in the javelin both had a really good first meet last Saturday. Nathan Brewer and Jared Guttromson are the early leaders in the discus, and Thomas Ashley and Willie Hayes in the shot put.
“There are a host of other kids in the three-to-five spots that are pushing each other like crazy, and it’s only going to make everyone better.”
Seniors Darnell Handcox and Robbie Thonney lead a talented group of long jumpers, and Handcox also brings postseason experience in the triple jump, Hisaw said, and Wa-Hi’s boys distance runners boast depth.
“It’s a great group of men right now, and they are competing well,” Hisaw said. “Michael Anderson, Jacob Leinweber and Alex Dever are our three seniors, and I can’t wait to see them down the road as they continue to improve.”
Thonney leads a “solid group of hurdlers” that could wind up the best in the MCC by the end of the season, Hisaw said.
Stuart Gillin, Handcox and Ethan Gardner return after taking part in last year’s 4x100 relay that took third at state.
“It’s a really exciting possibility to see how fast they run this spring,” Hisaw said.
On the Wa-Hi girls side, “it’s completely flip-flopped” from last year, he said.
“We lost the heart and soul of our team, with five or six kids graduating in sprints, hurdles and distance,” Hisaw said.
Hannah Moeller is the lone Blue Devil senior with regional experience in sprints, and losses hurt the relay teams that broke all three Wa-Hi school records last season.
“So we will truly have our work cut out for us,” Hisaw said. “We have to find some speed and depth in order to be competitive in sprints and relays. I do think we can be OK at the end of the year.”
In the hurdles, Colleen Gibbons, Hope Snyder and Mimi Liebrand return.
“We’re really lucky to have our three best 100-meter hurdle girls back,” Hisaw said.
In distance events, “We bring back 95 percent of last year’s team, and all the kids were part of this year’s state cross country team,” he said.
Seniors Hannah Hampson, Lea Davidson and Catherine Feistner, and junior Courtney Cox, lead the way.
Miranda Doyle, Kiauna Canada, Kiana Newcomb and Kate Hogan “will be our forces to be reckoned with in the long jump, triple jump and high jump,” Hisaw said.
Liebrand and Sam French lead the girls’ pole vaulting team that is looking for more depth.
Throwing events will be a strong point for the Blue Devil girls.
“Our throwers may be the best group in the state of Washington,” Hisaw said. “I say that sincerely. We have big-time girls throwing all three events (in Marie Hallowell, Tonhdavong, Madi Doepker and Maddie Sirmon). Remember those names as they are going to be dominant.”
Overall, Hisaw is once again excited for this season of Wa-Hi track and field.
“Our expectations are always very, very high, but we’ll never have it any other way,” he said. “We expect to win, we expect to compete like crazy and our kids are great people. They are so fun to be around. With 175 kids out this spring, that’s a lot of positive energy!”