The Prairie City Panther track team, with 17 athletes this season, has already competed in four meets, and they’re ready for more.
The team, which includes five seniors, is led by head coach Nate Barber, who said track and field is “for everybody.”
“It doesn’t matter what their athletic focus is, it’ll make them a better overall athlete,” he said. “If you’re not fast, you can go with distance or throwing — there’s no prototypical body type.”
Barber has help from assistant coach Kieley Williams, who oversees the long jump and triple jump athletes, and volunteer assistant Garrett Hitz, who helps with pole vault.
There are nine boys and eight girls on this year’s team, including senior Levi Burke who placed third at state in the high jump last season — his first season competing in the sport.
Other seniors are Haley Pfefferkorn, Jonathan Lawrence, Lane Williams and Syd Holman.
Pfefferkorn set a personal record in javelin mid-season last year with a mark of 107-0 and was ranked No. 1 at the district meet but, faced with rain, snow and 50 mph winds, did not advance to the state championships.
The senior said she’s recovering from an injury that occurred outside of sports this school year, and she plans to take it slow during the first half of the season to avoid any further injury.
She first picked up javelin in sixth grade and started competing as a freshman. She is also in her seventh year competing in shot put and discus.
“This year is definitely the year for me for javelin and discus,” she said. “I feel like I have a good chance this year.”
Pfefferkorn and her teammate Hailee Wall, a junior, may be challenging each other this season.
Wall set a personal record in javelin with a throw of 102-4 at the Diana Thurmond Invitational in Harper and is currently ranked fifth in District 4 with Pfefferkorn in seventh place.
Prairie City will face 14 opponents in District 4: Adrian, Cove, Crane, Dayville, Elgin, Harper, Huntington, Imbler, Jordan Valley, Joseph, Pine Eagle, Powder Valley, Ukiah and Wallowa.
Barber said some teams in the district have graduated top athletes, but they’ll still have strong competition.
“Crane and Adrian are always tough for boys and girls,” Barber said. “Adrian is the most well-rounded team.”
Barber said he expects great jumping from Burke and Samantha Workman and a lot of speed from freshman John Titus and Holman, who is new to track.
He said he’s also excited about sophomore Tristan McMahan, who has set personal records in both the long jump and triple jump this year, and Lawrence, who has shaved time off his distance running events.
Lawrence signed up for service in the Army, and Barber said he’s been training hard at practice.
The senior said his father, uncles and grandparents served in the Army, and he plans on “shipping off” for training in July.
He expects working hard in track practice and meets will only help him prepare for his service.
“The running events will help me out,” he said. “All of it will help me — and keep my endurance and stamina up.”
He enjoys distance running and competes in the 1,500 and 3,000, as well as the 400 and long jump.
He set a personal record in the 3,000 at Friday’s Burns Lions/Oster Track Meet, placing fourth with a mark of 11:06.79. He was in second place among the 1A athletes.
Burke, who was on the basketball team that placed fifth in state along with Holman and Lawrence, has high hopes for the season.
“I’m just trying to continue and keep the momentum going in more than one sport, going into the state level for sports,” he said.
He’s started off with a spark, setting personal records early in the season.
He bested his mark in the long jump with a 20-02 leap and the 100-meter run with a time of 12.23 at Friday’s Burns Lions/Oster Track Meet.
He’s optimistic that he and others will make the trip to state this year.
“The more athletes we have on the state level in different sports, the better it would be,” he said.
Holman, also known for his success on the basketball court, decided to try track this year.
“I’m new to everything,” he said. “I got my eyes opened to a lot of things that I didn’t know about this sport. It’s a lot different than basketball.”
So far, he’s competed in the 100, 200, 400 and javelin, with plans to try high jump.
Barber described Holman as having “elite speed” and said he expects great things from him this season.
The senior placed fourth in both the 100 and the long jump in Harper.
Williams, who’s competed in track for the past three years, said he added javelin as a new event this year.
“There are a lot of sore muscles to get through,” he said. “I’ve been working on my technique for it, and I feel that is something I can master.”
He said the members of his team take time to teach each other.
“It might be an individual sport, but we help each other out all the time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the season holds.”
Barber said his goals for the team include “pushing PRs (personal records), improving each week and taking as many kids as possible to state.”
He’s encouraged and believes they have a chance to take at least a handful of athletes to the state championships.
He enjoys seeing the middle school team members continue on to high school competition. Eighth-grader BettyAnn Wilson is one of the 15 middle-school athletes showing a lot of promise.
“She’ll hit the ground running as a freshman,” he said.
Barber said having a middle school track team is a benefit.
“It helps the overall program, and they’re much better athletes,” he said.
Prairie City Panther track and field season schedule
April 20: Pepsi Invitational in Union, 11 a.m.
April 23: Grant Union Small School Meet, 4 p.m.
April 26: Don Walker Invitational in Nyssa, 1 p.m.
April 30: Ranchers Invitational in Crane, 3:30 p.m.
May 3: Grant Union Invitational in John Day, 10 a.m.
May 10: 1A-4A District Meet in Baker City, 10 a.m.
May 17-18: 1A State Championships at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, TBD