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Coaches, athletes waiting to hit the fast track

Forgive Darrin McKinnon if hes a little bit impatient with the weather forecasts these days.

The unseasonably cold weather, with a little bit of snow in the air at times just to pour salt in the wound, is keeping McKinnons track program from taking its first steps onto its new facility.

Its something that is really going to impact the future of this sport here at West Fargo, McKinnon said. We cant wait to get out there together, as a team.

But the impact of the new facility is already being felt within the program. More than 100 kids are out for track this season, McKinnons largest team ever. Six years ago, in his early years at West Fargo High, McKinnon had teams at 70 kids or less.

Without a doubt, weve got great numbers, and weve had a lot of interest from that freshman class especially, he said. We like that, because those are kids that can kind of grow with the program. Theyre going to be so used to the facility in a couple of years they wont even know what we had to go through to get here.

For the past several years, the Packer track program has been relegated to the Berger Track, ruled too dilapidated to host West Fargos own meet, the Packer relays, the last five years.

This year, West Fargo will host two varsity meets, the Relays and a triangular meet with Fargo North and Wahpeton. The Junior Varsity program will also host a pair of meets.

On the varsity boys squad, West Fargo will have its work cut out for itself this year as it chases down perennial power Fargo South. Surrounded by young talent, a few seniors will lead the way for the Packers both on the track and in the field events.

In the sprints, Gavin Schmidt is a multiple-time State finalist, and should be in shape after a football season that saw him hampered with nagging ankle injuries. McKinnon said Schmidt, a captain for the football team and an undoubted leader for the track squad, will be joined by fellow senior Josh Jones, who is participating in sprint events along with some field jumps.

Hes improved so much over the last few years. Hes already shown us some good things at the indoor meets weve been at, so were hoping Josh can put up some points both on the track and in his jumps this season. It all helps, McKinnon said.

Junior Rob Gibson will look to improve on a solid season last year, and his coaches think hell be a versatile tool for the boys squad. Gibson, whose primary event is the 110 hurdles, will also run relays and middle distance races.

Sophomore Travis Stadum and junior David Baltezore will lead the way for the Packer boys distance runners. Junior Alex Olson is also coming off of successful Eastern Dakota Conference Cross County season last fall where he was all-EDC. Baltezore just missed all-conference status.

Theyre supported by a cast of young runners, McKinnon said, that will need two or three years to develop into solid track athletes.

It seems like with the boys you need that extra two or three years to mature, he said.

In the field, McKinnon is looking to Chris Urlaub for good things, as the jumper has a legitimate shot to qualify for state in three events. Hes already competed at State in the high jump, and leapt to a 6-foot, 2-inch mark indoors, which would have put him back at State if the jump had been held outdoors.

Hes someone that were going to look at for some solid points in those events at each meet, and he can deliver.

On the girls side, the loss of Karin Okigbo leaves a large hole in the sprints, but freshman Sarah Denne will look to fill the role of fastest girl. Senior Jenesa Olson is also a solid runner, as is sophomore Jaclyn Rankin. Junior Jessica Hermanson could also be near the top of the Packer sprinters.

The key for the girls will be finding a solid relay group, McKinnon said. With three relays for sprinters and middle distance runners at most meets, the girls team, which could contend for some hardware at the EDC meet in May, needs all the points it can get on the track.

I think coach Randy Holzkamm always does a good job with that group, and theyll come along quickly. Theyre so young, but I think theyll get the experience they need, and they have good leadership.

In the middle and long distances, more youth will support the squad. Junior Mary-Michael Vance, when healthy, is a good performer in the 400 meters. Eighth-grader Ellie Grooters is able to run anywhere from the 200 meters to the mile, and can also do hurdles. And Kaylee Kroenke, the gifted senior, is back to serve as a captain of the girls squad.

Shes definitely someone who has been with us for four years now and understands what we expect from a senior day in and day out, McKinnon said. Shes going to be a big asset for the girls team, just because she brings in that leadership quality, and shes a talented distance runner.

In the field, Alison Kelly, a senior, has had three seasons of success, and is like Urlaub in the fact that she could qualify for State in multiple events. A hurdler on the track, Kelly competed at State in the triple-jump last year, and McKinnon sees her making her way to the years final meet in the high jump as well.

Amanda McDonald is going to try to do something no Packer has ever done in McKinnons eight years at West Fargo, and thats qualify for state in the pole vault. The young McDonald approached coaches right away, saying she wanted to give the pole vault a shot. She hit the 7-feet, 6-inches mark at the Early Bird indoor meet, short of the 9-foot mark shell need to make state, but well on her way.

Shes willing to work, and we have someone on staff now that can teach the pole vault, so well have a couple of people in that event with her leading the way. We dont know what boys are going to compete yet, but Im sure well have some people interested once we move outside, McKinnon said.

Also on the field, Lynette Mund is taking over for Tim Scully coaching the girls throwers, including basketball standout Andrea Hummel and her sister, Alyssa. McKinnon said both Hummels showed good things in practice despite just joining the team fresh off the basketball season.

West Fargo will compete in the State Class A Indoor Invitational at North Dakota State on Friday, with action starting at 3 p.m. They will wrap up the indoor season on Tuesday, April 4, with another meet at NDSUs Bison Sports Arena, when they participate in the Eastern Dakota Conference Indoor meet.

From there, its outside, as the outdoor season starts on Friday, April 7. The girls will travel to Grand Forks for the Grand Forks Invite, while the boys team heads to Fargo South for the Fargo Pentangular, which includes North, South, West Fargo, Red River and Central. Both meets start at 4 p.m.

The first meet at the new West Fargo High Sports Complex will then be held on Thursday, April 13, when the Packers and Fargo North host a triangular meet.