No one gave the Astoria girls track team a chance at winning their fourth state championship in a row last season.
But when the state meet was over, there they were, the Astoria girls, just five points behind Marshfield in the final team standings.
The Lady Fishermen are just one of those “traditional” programs — always in the running, so to speak, no matter who’s on the roster.
Astoria will have to replace one of the greatest athletes in the history of the school, as Darian Hageman is now running and jumping at Oregon State.
But that doesn’t mean their championship days are over. The Astoria girls are reloading and will still be a top three team at the 4A level.
Meanwhile, the Astoria boys have some returning talent, and more coming into the program.
It’s just another promising year for coach Garrett Parks and the Fishermen tracksters.
Through the graduation of other athletes and Scappoose no longer in the picture (the Indians are now at the 5A level), the Astoria girls have the top returning athletes in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters, with many of those athletes giving the Fishermen the league’s best relay squads.
Seaside has the top female thrower in the state, but not by much, as Astoria senior Kes Sandstrom is close behind her Clatsop Clash rival Gretchen Hoekstre. Sandstrom placed second behind Hoekstre in the discus and shot put in the league meet, then turned the tables and won discus at state, with Hoekstre second.
Astoria lost Hageman in the jumps, but they also return the second- and third-best athletes in the high jump (junior Elizabeth Barnett and senior Heaven Barrett), and the top returning pole vaulter, long jumper and triple jumper (Barnett in all three).
The fact is, there’s points everywhere on the track and in the field for the Astoria girls.
On the track, senior Nara Van De Grift is the Cowapa’s top returner in the 100 meters, where she placed second behind Valley Catholic’s Tara Fuiten in last year’s league meet.
Fuiten also won the 200 and 400 meters, but the Valiants lost their talented sprinter to graduation.
In the 200, the top returning time belongs to Astoria sophomore Kelsey Fausett, who is also the league’s top returner in the 400.
Sophomore Sophie Long will be the big favorite to repeat her league title in the 800 meters. And senior Andrea Harris can run any number of events, from the sprints, hurdles, relays or jumps.
All those returners — plus some incoming talent at the freshman level — makes Astoria the team to beat in league competition, and should have the Lady Fishermen piling up points at the state level.
Some of the names to “track” this season will be returning sophomores Abby Groncki in the distance events, and Isabella Clement in the hurdles.
“Our strengths will rely with Kes in some of the throws and Sophie in the running events, and we should be pretty strong in both of our relays as well,” Parks said. “You can’t replace a Darian Hageman, immediately or if ever. But we return Liz (Barnett) in all the jumps, who is a proven commodity. She’s very strong as well.”
Astoria assistant coach Andrew Fick handles the distance crew. “Sophie Long will be back for another strong season,” he said. “She was second at state last year in the 800 and just a couple seconds off our school record, which gives us some good goals to work towards.
“Lindsay Riutta, Ally Pritchard, and Abby Groncki — who ran with us in cross country season and have that experience pushing each other — will be really helpful in having a competitive girls squad, and I think might surprise some people in putting up points for us in some of the big meets later on.”
Junior McKenna Long “has also been taking on a leadership role and helping set the tone of positivity and hard work that we’re looking for,” he said.
League-wise, “Valley Catholic has a couple girls and some good talent there, and you can’t ever look past Seaside,” said Parks, a Seaside graduate. “They have some serious talent. Obviously they have a good thrower down there.”
Astoria boys track
On the boys’ side, the absence of Scappoose “is going to open a bunch of holes,” Parks said. “They’ve consistently been one of the stronger sprint squads on the boys side. It’s definitely a different league, but still one with plenty of top 10 talent.
“Without Scappoose, it will take something away from our league championship, but it also takes away from our getting better, continually competing against each other.”
For his own team, Parks said, “We have a lot of youth coming into the program that we’re trying to develop. We have a couple pretty strong kids returning, and we’ve reloaded pretty heavily. We just have to get that youth developed now, and into a position to have success.”
Early season rankings have senior Ian Hunt ranked first in the Cowapa League in the high jump, while sophomore teammate Presley Beck is tops in the long jump and triple jump. Statewide, Hunt is fifth in the 110-meter hurdles.
Elsewhere, freshmen Colton McMaster and Daniel Garcia Camacho are climbing the ranks in the throwing events.
“We’re pretty spread out” in points, Parks said. “We have a strong person in all the jumps, and we’re going to have some strong people in the relays and into the mid-distances.
“The boys are reloading a bit, because we’ve lost some seniors. But we’ve got some strong freshmen, and some new sophomores and juniors who will be helping us out.”
The Fishermen are covered in the throws, with whoever coach Bob Ellsberg works with.
“He’s an incredible coach,” Parks said of Ellsberg. “He can definitely develop talent quite well. Within our throwers and jumpers, we’ve got some pretty incredible assistant coaches who dedicate their time to helping the kids find success.”
For the runners, Fick said, “we’re looking to improve on where we were from last year. Nikolai Boisvert and Shrey Sharma have both been running really well in these first few days and have been pushing each other along.
“Anton Heinrich, one of our exchange students who also ran cross country, is looking promising for the middle distances and has been exploring options in both the sprints and distance races. Dylan Dietrich, Elias Harding Coe, and Jacob Matlock have also been out front in early training.”