By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Grizzlies have been looking forward to this year

Kennedy, now a senior, finished second in the boys 400-meter run. He also anchored McMinnville’s 4x100-meter relay team that finished a surprising sixth in the finals.

“I’m excited for next year,” Kennedy said at the time. “It’s going to be a huge year for Mac.”

Yes, Ashante Horsley, Ariel Oliver, Tim Anderson and Felix DeVera — all state placers last year — are all gone, but Kennedy is leading a resurgence with a group of boys athletes, and the girls team has a bright core of young athletes.

“This year we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” McMinnville track coach Vic Downs said. “A lot of kids who started off on the JV has freshmen were varsity last year and some of them went to state. We bring back kind of a mix. Lots of new kids. We try to make track and field available to anyone, but then we have some really good veterans in the boys.

“The boys, I think, can score a lot of points at state.”

It’s March, but Downs is already thinking about the potential for the boys team at state. Credit that to Kennedy and a group of sprinters who worked through the winter preparing.

“(Kane) and a lot of kids were really working hard. They’re goal oriented,” Downs said. “They’re ready to go. I can’t wait to unleash them.”

The Grizzlies might have another sprinter to solidify a couple of relay teams and the sprints. Senior Spencer Payne, said he is going to run this spring. A wrist injury that already kept him out for the entire basketball season will also force him to give up his spring sport — baseball. Payne was an all-conference selection last year, but he wouldn’t be able to swing a bat, so he said he decided to turn his attention to track.

Downs said Payne had surgery earlier this week.

“There’s no hurry,” Downs said. “We want him, first and foremost to get that arm healthy. I certainly hope that the surgery was the right thing for his wrist. … I’d like him to see him playing football this fall.”

Payne has already displayed his speed last fall in football, though it has been four years since he has run track.

“He’s fast,” Downs said. “We don’t know how track fast he is. We knew he was in eighth grade. … It’s a big loss for (the baseball team), but a lot of times athletes don’t have another sport to fall back on. They’re injured, and they’re out. At least he has, for his sake, something to fall back on that he can do.”

While the boys team has a group of leaders that has been working together for a few years, the girls team is full of underclassmen that are ready to make their names known. Gone are giants Horsley and Oliver, who dominated the attention in the last few years helping the Grizzlies finish third in the state in 2012 and 2011.

“We are really young,” Downs said. “We graduated a lot, but I really like what our youngsters can do. It’s going to surprise some people. We have some athletes. We may not win a state title, but we’ll score some points at the state meet.”

This year’s potential can also be found from the results at state. Horsley and senior Claire Lawson are gone, but sophomore Taylor Petersen and senior Hailey Pattishall return from Mac’s school-record setting 4x400-meter relay team that finished third at state. Junior Lucy Bellville finished tenth in the state in the triple jump, and Dakotah Buhler had a good Pacific Conference meet last year in the jumps as well.

The season goals are set for some, but right now the Grizzlies are still just two weeks into practice. Downs said his focus lately has been on recruiting more kids to come out, building conditioning and getting ready for Mac’s first big meet March 21.

For the time being at least, the weather is also cooperating. Tuesday and Wednesday of this week were wet, but Downs said the mild conditions have been the best in years. He said athletes that didn’t have winter sports took advantage of the weather to get out on the track and put in some extra work.

“This is my 25th track season and this is the best I’ve ever seen,” Downs said. “This winter was super mild. It was great for training.”

The Grizzlies start the season Monday at Newberg for the Monday Night Miles. Then they open March 21 at home for their big Jim Barks/Grizzly Bear Open.

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