By Erik Boal
For The Signal
Depth in distance running and talented throwers have long been synonymous with Foothill League track and field, along with the success of the Canyon High boys program.
Expect more of the same this season.
Following its first league championship last year, the West Ranch girls team is also trying to remain the standard by which its peers are measured.
Both defending champions open Foothill competition today as the favorites. Canyon faces an immediate challenge at Valencia, with West Ranch likely waiting until an April 13 showdown against Saugus to determine the girls title.
“I told the girls now they have a target on their backs and everyone in the league wants to beat them,” said West Ranch coach Sara Soltani, who guided the Wildcats to the girls championship after she won three girls titles and one boys crown in her four years at Golden Valley.
“I think we’re much more well-rounded than we were last year. I feel like we’re covered in all areas but the hurdles, but I’m always worried about Saugus.”
Canyon hasn’t lost a boys meet to Valencia since 2001, but nagging injuries have limited the Cowboys’ depth thus far. Canyon is seeking a ninth consecutive Foothill title and 16th since joining the league in 1993.
“I think we have a really well-balanced team and we don’t have any glaring weaknesses, but depth right now is a concern,” said Canyon coach Paul Broneer, whose boys team is 37-2-1 in league meets during its eight-year championship run.
“If everybody is healthy, we’re a pretty good team. But we’re going to have our work cut out for us with Valencia.”
Canyon will be relying heavily on its top distance runner, reigning CIF-Southern Section Division 2 champion and state cross country runner-up Ethan Danforth, to score important points throughout the league schedule, along with junior thrower Jacob Lopez.
The arrival of Burroughs transfer Christian Valles, a senior pole vaulter and jumper, along with the return of senior jumpers Max Wright and Lucas Corbin will help Canyon while its sprint corps recovers from injuries.
West Ranch returns junior Natalie Ramirez, ninth in the state in the shot put, who leads the deepest group of female throwers in one league in California. Canyon senior Gabby Sanchez is the reigning Division 2 discus champion and placed 11th in the state, with Golden Valley junior Shyann Franklin a two-time league shot put winner and 2016 discus champ.
The Wildcats will also count on juniors Sophia Hoelzel, Hailey Hunt, London Lewis, Amber Racina and Shelbi Schauble in pursuit of not only another league championship, but the Division 2 team title.
Saugus returns the league’s top female distance runner in senior Mariah Castillo, the Division 2 state cross country runner-up and third-place finisher at Nike Cross Nationals, who swept the 1,600 and 3,200 titles last year.
Other girls league champions returning are Valencia senior Jaliyah Berkley in the 100 and junior Chidinma Ikonte and in the triple jump, Hart sophomore Tori Waldeck in the 400 and Saugus senior Courtney Heys in the pole vault.
Hart has a pair of returning boys league champions in juniors Cole Shirakata (110 hurdles) and Joe Hylton (100), with West Ranch junior Mya Davis capturing the 300 hurdles title and Valencia junior Kai Wingo returning to defend his triple jump crown.
Here are some other athletes to keep an eye on this season:
Micah Adeyemo, Jr.; Angelee Berganio, Soph.; Rachel Bowers, Sr.; Troy Chairez, Sr.; Patrick King, Sr.; Selasi Mawugbe, Sr.; Taylor Tepesano, Sr.; Lonyaa Merriweather, Sr.; Marisa Rodriguez, Jr.; Talia Taufaasau, Sr.
Isabel Antillon, Soph.; Yleana Lopez, Fr.; Elijah Loreto, Jr.; Deven Mendez, Jr.; Daniel Rush, Jr.; Brandon Sabelis, Jr.; Tyler Walker, Soph.; Khalil Woodard, Jr.
Kendall De La Vega, Jr.; Gabe Halekakis, Sr.; CJ McMullen Sr.; Brooklyn Quirola, Soph.; Chris Sorensen, Sr.; Jordan Taylor, Sr.
Abbey Bryant, Sr.; Jacqueline Cascione, Jr.; Juan Enciso, Sr.; Kodi Oshiro, Soph.; Kayla Potrykus, Sr.; Jake Rochford, Sr.
Juliana Anuakado, Jr.; Tanner Berney, Sr.; Skylar Ingram, Soph.; Antonio Marroquin, Jr.; Hailey Kirsch, Soph.; Britain Reynolds, Sr.; Chloe Stewart, Jr.; Kristen Walker, Sr.; Tyler Yost Sr.
Evan Bates, Jr.; Danny Bryant, Sr.; Preston Pope, Jr.; Isaiah Seidman, Jr.; Timmy Sterkel, Sr.; Bryce Valles, Jr.