By Ray Hamill — As expected, the McKinleyville Panthers relied heavily on their runners to win a tight Humboldt-Del Norte League track and field meet at College of the Redwoods on Wednesday, but this year’s team is about far more than just that.
“We’re strong on the track for sure, but we’ve made an emphasis to compete more in the field events this year,” head coach Rudy Garcia said.
The defending league champions on the boys’ side have good numbers on hand this season with 30 athletes on the roster, and the head coach has been encouraging his younger contingent to try out different events in order to maximize the experience for themselves and give the team more balance going forward.
And many of the younger Panthers are beginning to find their way at the varsity level, including sophomores Nathan Witte and Isaac Ward, who featured in the top three of both hurdle events on Wednesday.
If the Panthers are to challenge for another league championship, however, they will no doubt rely heavily on their senior runners, with Owen Lien and Ryan Dolan leading the way in the sprints and Vera in the longer distances.
“Owen and Ryan are definitely taking up the charge for us in the sprints and Adam’s a captain,” Garcia said. “And in your senior year, you’ve got to go out with a bang.”
The Panthers scored 133 points at Wednesday’s meet, barely edging out Del Norte (130) and Fortuna (118), suggesting it could be an exciting and close race for the league crown this spring.
The Panthers’ future appears to be in good hands too, with their frosh/sophomore team also taking first place at CR, scoring 72 points to out-distance second-placed Eureka (54) by some margin.
Ward leads the way for Mack girls
On the girls’ side of things, the Panthers are not expected to be quite as strong as the boys, with 18 athletes on the roster, and they placed fifth as a team on Wednesday.
They do, however, have a number of standouts, including a sophomore class that looks poised to make some serious noise in the coming years.
Senior Hadlie Ward was the team’s lone individual winner on Wednesday, pacing the field in the 110 meter hurdles, and placing second in the 300m hurdles.
“She leads by example,” Garcia said.
Sophomore Mackenzie Bray placed third in both hurdle events, setting PRs in each and showing what a bright future she is likely to have.
Bray leads the way on an exciting sophomore class that also includes Kylee Townsend and Cameron Heenan.
“Our sophomore crew, they’ll learn from that experience and grow stronger,” Garcia said.
Overall, the coach was largely pleased with what he saw from his athletes in the league opening meet, and glad to get in some all-important competition.
“It was a nice wake-up call for some of us,” he said. “It’s good the kids were able to compete and have decent weather.”
The Panthers will host the second league meet of the season next Wednesday.