Culver track and field enters the 2017 season with a couple holes to fill left by graduated seniors, but can take solace in a couple things.
First, the Bulldogs return several state medalists on the girls side in Catylyn Duff, Jessica Johnson, Emma Knepp and Irma Retano.
Second, the team was able to maintain numbers with a huge help from its freshmen group — 12 to be exact.
"We have a big crew and good crew of freshmen — boys and girls — that I have some high hopes for," head coach Mike Dove said. "This is the largest freshmen group we've had in years."
Culver finished second in the Columbia Basin Conference district meet last year, and it came as somewhat of a surprise to them. Individuals have set their own goals, but as a team on both the boys' and girls' side, the Bulldogs' goal is to win a league title. With the seasoned athletes they have in the fold this year, they feel that goal is certainly attainable.
Duff returns in the discus and shot put, after she finished third at state in the latter event last season. She attended a camp last summer and continued to train throughout the winter.
"She's got that goal to win a state title this year," Dove said. "We're going this year with a frame of mind to win the darn thing. She's put the work in and it's really showing right now ... It's going to be fun to see how she progresses throughout the season."
After a nice freshman season in which she competed in four events at the state track meet, Retano has plenty of options in terms of the events she can be successful in. She ran the 400 and 3,000 at the state meet, as well as Culver's two relay teams.
As a three-sport athlete, Dove isn't too concerned with her level of conditioning, but more getting her mentally prepared for where she will compete. In the early going this season, they'll put her in a variety of events to figure out where she fits best.
"She's one of those kids that, from the 400 to the 3,000, she could score at the state track meet," Dove said. "It's just finding that spot that she's going to have the most success when it comes to the end of the season."
Much of the same can be said about Knepp, who focused on the 800 at state last year, finishing sixth and improving her personal best by seven seconds. In addition, she competed in the 100 and 400 relays along with Retano, Johnson and Hannah Lewis, who graduated in 2016. Knepp also runs cross country, and has shown the versatility to be competitive in both speed and distance events.
Returning state qualifiers on the boys' side are seniors Mack Little in the discus and Ian Stevens in the long jump. Both also play baseball, and as they've done in the past, will split practice time between the two sports accordingly.
Culver's team is somewhat unique in the sense that during many seasons, they don't see their CBC league foes — Heppner, Pilot Rock, Stanfield and Weston-McEwen — until the district meet. Instead they stick closer to home in the Central Oregon corridor between Madras and La Pine, going against bigger schools in higher classifications. In years past, these meets have conditioned Culver athletes to better prepare mentally for the bigger atmospheres, particularly the state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene.
"Our kids go to a district track meet and the ones who make it onto the state track meet, they're used to running in front of a lot of people and big crowds," Dove said. "It's kind of that pressure they put on themselves, but they're used to that."
The Bulldogs often rely on times posted on the internet in order to see where they stack up to other 2A schools. This season, however, Culver will head to Stanfield on April 8 for the Dick Horyana Invitational that each CBC team will be attending as well as several other teams in 2A.
"It'll be a good midseason check of where we're standing league-wise," Dove said.
Culver opens its season Thursday afternoon in Prineville with the Crook County Icebreaker. The meet is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m.
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