Following an offseason filled with coaching changes among Foothill League programs, there is one consistent opinion when it comes to boys track and field this season: Valencia won’t have to wait another 15 years to capture a title.
After sharing last year’s league crown with Saugus and seven-time champion Canyon — the Vikings’ first league crown since 2001 –—Valencia is motivated to begin a streak of its own and end the Cowboys’ impressive run.
Dealing with the role of favorite is something the Vikings are trying to get used to, especially after going winless in league dual meets from 2008-10.
“Back then, we used to hold up one finger and that meant ‘one win.’ Now when we do it, there’s a whole different meaning. We have a whole different goal now than we did seven years ago,” said Valencia coach Jeff Gilkey, who returned to guide the program after Kevin Berns left following 12 years to become co-coach at Saugus.
“We’ve always been blessed with having a good coaching staff, and that’s been a huge help in keeping this team together and them believing in themselves. Our boys cross country team had its best season in school history, and we have a lot of sprinters back, which certainly helps. If everything goes well, we can have a great year.”
The Vikings lost to Canyon last year, before defeating Saugus, which forced a three-way tie with its victory over the Cowboys. It was the first shared title for Canyon since 2012 when the Cowboys tied with Golden Valley and Hart.
“We’re happy with title. On our board in the gym, it doesn’t say whether it was a co-championship or not, just that we won,” said Canyon coach Paul Broneer, whose team won its 14th boys title since joining the league in 1993.
“Our kids take a lot of pride in that.”
The Vikings feature seniors Sam Pica, Chris Kojin and Joshua Pikes, along with junior Tanner Berney, who combined to win both the 4×200 relay and sprint medley relay titles Feb. 11 at the California Winter Outdoor Championships at Arcadia High.
Valencia will also rely on junior Britain Reynolds and an improved distance corps, instrumental in the Vikings placing second at the league cross country finals in November ahead of Saugus.
“When people look around at this team, we have some really talented kids,” said Gilkey. “We have some depth in places we haven’t had before consistently.”
The Vikings add more versatility with the arrival of sophomore Kai Wingo, who lived in the Santa Clarita Valley when he was younger, before moving to Japan and returning during the summer.
“After people saw what he did (Saturday) at Redondo, the word is out on Kai,” said Gilkey. “If he was a secret before, he’s not a secret any longer. He can help us in several different areas.”
When the Cowboys lost to Saugus last year, it was their first setback in a league dual meet since 2012.
With Valencia and Saugus both possessing formidable rosters and an improved West Ranch team, it will be difficult for Canyon to produce a similar run of success, especially with recent injuries to pole vaulter Josh Kimmer and hurdler Shane Oliver.
“We lost a lot last year and rebuilding is always tough,” said Broneer. “It’s a guessing game moving kids around, so we’ll have to wait and see. You have to coach what you’ve got and often times, coach by the seat of your pants during a meet. The most important thing is convincing them that it’s a team thing and that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Senior Steven Arrington and juniors Troy Chairez, Taylor Tepesano and Brandon Wilson contribute to a strong sprint and relay corps, which will be bolstered by the improved health of Oliver. Senior Camden Apsay and Wilson are three-sport athletes who will provide depth in the jumping events.
Junior Lucas Corbin is expected to be a big asset in the pole vault and jumps, supported by senior thrower John Elam and rising sophomore thrower Jacob Lopez.
With Kevin Berns and Momoko Montgomery-Dekok replacing David Russell as coaches, along with Rene Paragas remaining the Centurions’ distance coach, the sleeper in the league title race could again be Saugus after sharing its first championship since 2009.
The Centurions will feature a strong distance group, including senior CJ Westenhofer and juniors Boon Andrews and Juan Enciso, looking to replace graduated star Ryan Tate.
Junior quarterback Nate Eldridge will be an asset for Saugus in the sprints, with senior Noah Turner contributing valuable points in the pole vault and jumps, along with senior Blake Walkowiak in the throws. Senior jumpers Cliff Alvarez and Michael Brooks could have a big impact in dual meets for the Centurions.
After leading the Wildcats to the league cross country championship in November, new coach Sara Soltani will rely on the same nucleus of distance runners to propel West Ranch into the upper half of the track and field standings this year.
Seniors Jack Arnold, Justin Sherfey and Jake Carver, juniors Preston Pope and Timmy Sterkel, along with sophomore Isaiah Seidman give West Ranch the potential to score significant points in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
“During the fall, I made track and field athletes come to league meets to witness what they were doing, because it’s rare to witness that type of greatness, being a dominant team in a dominant distance heavy league,” Soltani said. “That set the tone moving forward, that practice is something you must come to and working hard is something you must do. There is a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done in terms of track and field, but the boys are working incredibly hard.”
Freshman high jumper Eugene Park and sophomore jumper Bryce Valles could have a big impact for the Wildcats, not only in dual meets, but at the league finals.
Jalonick “Lonnie” Davis, who worked as an assistant for Soltani in recent years, has taken over as head coach for the Grizzlies.
Senior thrower Gabe Coronado will be a huge asset after winning shot put and discus league titles last season, along with the veteran presence of Andre Rivera and Hasani Fields.
Golden Valley’s distance corps of Jaime Calderon, Jacob Acosta and Alexis Romero have shown improvement since last year and will be counted on to replace graduated talent Jonathon Bay, who won the 1,600 league title last season.
Senior pole vaulters Nelson Campbell, John Campbell and Nick Amendola highlight the Indians’ roster following the graduation of hurdling star DJ Aponik.
Hart will also rely on junior sprinter Gabe Halekakis and sophomore hurdler Cole Shirakata to contend for league individual titles.