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Lots of potential


West Valley High's Chris Vennum runs through a hurdling drill in an after-school practice. 
 (Liz-Anne Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
West Valley High's Chris Vennum runs through a hurdling drill in an after-school practice. (Liz-Anne Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Christilaw Correspondent

Right now, they’re bundled up.

As March goes out like a frigid, occasionally snowy lion, area track athletes are huddled in layers of clothing while staking a place on their respective varsities.

But if you look closely at the Spokane Valley’s four Greater Spokane League boys track teams, you see the raw material of state-caliber performances.

Like West Valley’s Rashad Toussaint, who’s going for a third consecutive State 3A state triple jump championship; or teammate Marc Smith, who’s looking to improve on a sixth place finish in last year’s 400-meter final.

Or Central Valley’s Aaron Grothe, who has his sights set on bettering a sixth-place finish in the State 4A high jump final; or teammate Tyler Folk, who finished tied for fourth place with Grothe in the regional and missed the state meet by losing a jump off.

They’re out there. With a heavy, hooded sweatshirt pulled up around their face and hands thrust deeply in front pockets. They’re dedicated to improvement.

“I think you could go around the league and start writing down names of the guys you think will be there at the end of the year,” Central Valley coach Chuck Bowden said. “But I really think we’re in for some big surprises this year.”

Central Valley Bears

Bears coach Chuck Bowden has 125 athletes to work with, a number that is down slightly from last year.

“We knew a couple years ago that we were going to have some pretty good-sized classes coming through,” he said. “With this year’s freshman class, if we keep half of them through their senior year, they will be the biggest class we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

What’s more, the freshmen already are pushing the upper classes.

“I’ve never had a freshman class push this early,” Bowden said.

But it’s the strong senior class that will set the pace.

Grothe and Folk already are high jumping well. Kris Kittridge returns in the triple and long jumps after placing eighth at last year’s regional in the triple jump. Travis Rund qualified for the state meet in the javelin and Steve Walsh qualified for the regional in the discus. Seniors Cameron Severns and Brad Ferguson, along with juniors Derek Schuh and Jerad Kynaston, return intact after qualifying for state in the 4x400 relay.

Schuh looks to improve on an impressive personal best of 50.2 in the 400 meters and Ferguson has a best time of 50.9.

“We look pretty solid on the track,” Bowden said. “About the only place where we have question marks is in the hurdles, and we have some athletes there, as well. We just don’t have that senior that you can count on meet in and meet out.

“I think people are going to look at us and think we’re pretty middle-distance heavy, but I think we’re going to be okay in the sprints and the distances,” Bowden said. “We just have to sort things out a little.”

With 125 athletes out, the competition figures to be stiff for varsity spots – a good situation for any coach to be in.

“I haven’t come home from practice once where I haven’t thought to myself, ‘Wow, that was a great practice,’ ” Bowden said.

East Valley Knights

Coach Dave McCarty has a solid group of seniors, a promising freshman class and athletes in between.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “The problem is, we’re now at Class 3A and our region qualifies just two to state. We’d probably have an easier time getting to state if we still competed with the Class 4A teams in the GSL.”

In seniors Dave Howard, Cody Irby and Chris Shearer and junior Austin Wardsworth, the Knights have a solid group of throwers.

“We could have three guys over 50 feet in the shot put,” McCarty said. “And we could potentially have three guys go over 180 in the javelin.”

Senior Matt Tonani returns in the long jump, triple jump and high jump, and Shearer already has cleared 6 feet in the high jump this season.

Junior Anthony Laborin ran an 11.3 100-meter dash last year and already turned in an 11.6 last week at the Banana Belt meet.

“He’s about where we wanted him to be to pick up where we left off,” McCarty said.

Tim Armstrong and Kyle Bowers both ran the hurdles and are bigger and stronger for their sophomore season.

Senior state veteran Keith Holt, junior Nick Atwood and sophomore Tyler Thatcher lead the team’s distance group. Holt has a personal best of 1:57 in the 800 and ran 1:59.11 in last year’s state 800-meter preliminaries.

“We should be pretty good in the relays,” McCarty said.

University Titans

The Titans have athletes.

Senior Matt Hanna is in his third varsity sport this season. Seniors Matt Engle and Matt Winkler and sophomore Elliott Nay will lead the team’s distance squad after leading the cross country team in the fall.

Seniors Kellen Lewis and Kris O’Connor return to run the hurdles, with O’Connor doubling in the discus.

Senior Micheal Kelley has thrown 160 in the javelin. Freshman Wes Nolen shattered the middle school javelin record, but steps up to a heavier javelin at the high school level.

West Valley Eagles

Coach Jim McLachlan‘s crew may be at its best in big meets.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” the dean of area track coaches said. “We should be a better big meet team than a dual meet team. We should score better in the big invitational meets than dual meets.

“The kids that we have that are good are really good.”

Starting with Toussaint, in the long and triple jumps.

“He had the third best indoor (triple) jump in the country,” McLachlan said. “When he had that trouble with basketball and was off the team for three weeks, he went to a couple indoor meets, jumped twice and was one of the best in the country.”

Toussaint won last year’s state title with a jump of 49 feet, 2.25 inches. McLachlan expects to see jumps over 50 feet this season.

“He always jumps well at state,” he said. “We’re going to enter him in some big meets and, hopefully, let him have some big jumps to take a little of the pressure off him when he gets to state.”

Smith ran a 50.6 in the 400 to place sixth in the 400. The only underclassman to finish ahead of Smith was Attrail Snipes, who enters his senior season at Rainier Beach.

Toussaint’s sophomore brother, Arton, gives the Eagles another quality jumper.

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