Spring in Blaine has become synonymous with warming weather, green leaves, flowers and strong finishes at the state 2A track and field meets. Weeks from the first day of spring, the Borderite track and field team began workouts February 28.
Even as they battle issues of attrition from graduation, head track and field coach Mike Grambo sees enormous potential for the Borderites in the highly competitive Northwest conference (NWC).
As the season opens this month, the boys team, which went undefeated in the regular season meets last season, was keenly impacted by graduations.
“It will be hard to go 10-0 in a conference that is as strong as ours,” Grambo said in an email. “We have a very young team this year, but we still should be strong.”
The losses of top sprinter Caleb Statham and high jumper Tusapa Laolagi will be offset by the return of junior sprinter Ephraim Westbrook and sophomore distance runner Tom Bradley.
Bradley went to state last year in the 3200m run while Westbrook is ranked 8th in the 110m hurdles and 10th in the 300m hurdles. Bradley is ranked sixth in the state in the 3200m, eighth in the 1600, and will be on the mile relay team that Grambo expects to be one of the best in the state, with Westbrook, Brandon Becerra and Brad Whitley.
“(He is) a great sprinter,” noted Grambo of the fleet Westbrook. “His potential is untapped.”
The top senior returning is Brett Mattson, whose injury late in the season thwarted a run to a state title last year. Mattson is one of the favorites to win the 2A title in the pole vault, and ranks second in 2A with a 14-1 jump.
Returners Andrew Dahl, who finished ninth at state last year, and Shaypher Hendricks give Blaine a formidible pole vault contingent.
On the girl’s side, while all eyes will be on Cherish Morrison, Blaine’s enigmatic superstar sprinter, Grambo contemplates the loss of Robin Taylor, who won two state titles in consecutive years in the pole vault and as part of the 4x200 relay.
“We will miss Robin,” Grambo said. “She was a great contributor to our team. We still have some strong athletes returning and the potential to develop some greater depth.”
There are three strong candidates to replace Taylor on the 4x200 team in Rachael McKinstry, Olivia Olason and Lindsey Freeman.
Part of the depth that Grambo looks to are the returners from last year’s team that brought home five state titles and placed second in the state in the team competition.
Among them was surprise qualifier Penina Laolagi who stormed through the districts to go to state in the shot put. Undersized by comparison to her shot put peers, she is still consistently strong and competitive.
“Her explosion and technique make her a great thrower,” Grambo explained.
Another layer of depth is provided by long-striding, middle distance runner, Kiersten Sigfusson who placed fifth in the 200, third in the state in the 400, as well as winning a title as the third leg of the 4x200 relay.
Sigfusson has the distinction of being the only person in Whatcom county to defeat Morrison in a race when she edged her out in a 400m sprint in a home meet last year.
Still, all eyes will be on Morrison who returns now as leader of the girls track team with an unprecedented eight state titles under her belt already. Her strong finish last season despite battling two umbilical hernias caused her to forego undergoing offseason surgery to repair the injuries.
“She looks stronger this year than last,” Grambo said. “Anyone who has eight state championships going into her junior season will be a leader on your team. She has been doing a great job leading our team.”
Morrison is ranked first in four events in 2A. Her time of 12.01 seconds in the 100m dash is only .07 seconds behind 3A Franklin Pierce’s Germe Poston for overall best time in the state.
“I think Cherish will run under 12 (seconds) in the 100, under 25 in the 200 and under 56 in the 400,” Grambo said.
Looming on the horizon is last season’s stumbling block, Sehome, who usurped the Borderites as state team champions.
“They [Sehome] are always a top contender,” Grambo said. “My hope is that our athletes will be competitive, work hard and have fun. To have a run at the title, our athletes need to do their best, peak at the right time and stay injury free.”