Stefani Johnson heaves the shot put. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

For Jake Lucey, the new head coach of McNary High School’s track and field team, the challenge of corralling the 150 students who came out for the team this season might have been a daunting one, but it was made easier by the quality of the athletes.

“They’re just a nice group of kids ands it’s gone about as smooth as can be. The biggest thing is we’re really young and there’s some seriously talented kids coming in,” Lucey said.

While the number of returning athletes dwindled due to the loss of several powerhouse seniors last year, five with state meet experience return to the team this year: Tim McDowell in the high jump and 400-meter sprint; Jenna Quesnel in the pole vault; Dylan McHugh in the 800-meter run; Averi Wing, who took part in the 4×400 and 4×100 relays; and Laura Donaldson, who was part of the 4×400 relay.

Quesnel, one of only two returning senior girls alongside Hannah Phipps, is chasing the school record in the pole vault. Her personal record in competition last year was 10-4 and the school record is 10-9.

“But I hit 11-3 in off-season training,” Quesnel said. “I need to get comfortable on the outdoor poles, the feel is a lot different [from training indoors through the winter].”

The Celts’s first meet of the season was scheduled for Thursday in McMinnville past press time.

“We lost a lot of strong seniors, but our guys have put in a lot of work conditioning in the off-season and we’ve got a good group of underclassmen returners who will work their way up,” she said. “I’m ready to move from the conditioning mindset to the competition mindset.”

McHugh’s sights are set on besting his father’s score in the 800-meter.

“He ran around a 1:55 as a senior and I want to see if I can beat him as a junior,” he said.

He was pleased with the look of the Celtic distance team compared to the 2010 season.

“We have a lot more people out this year and a lot of good freshman,” McHugh said. “We just have to push ourselves to come out and work hard every day.”

McDowell planned to focus his efforts on the high jump in his senior season and cleaning up his starts off the block, but was happy with his early look at the team as a whole.

“It looks like we’re going to have a really strong team with a lot of fast freshmen coming in, and some seniors who have never done track before to help our throwers,” he said.

Lucey was eager to get the team on the field in competition to see who else rises to the surface of McNary’s deep pool of athletes.

“I’m hoping the McMinnville meet will give us a look at where we are and where we need to go. I’m also hoping for some surprises from the kids who have been practicing,” he said.