Sports

TRACK PREVIEW | Wolves’ new relay team looks to keep pace

South Kitsap senior Mason Villarma is the lone returner on the boys 1,600-meter relay team that won the Class 4A state championship last year. - File Photo
South Kitsap senior Mason Villarma is the lone returner on the boys 1,600-meter relay team that won the Class 4A state championship last year.
— image credit: File Photo

There might not be a greater challenge in sports than achieving sustained success.

It is even more difficult with the constant changeover in high schools.

South Kitsap’s boys track team faces that challenge as it attempts to repeat as Class 4A state champions in the 1,600-meter relay. Only senior Mason Villarma returns from the quartet that finished in a school-record time of 3 minutes, 18.39 seconds, last May at Star Track XXXI at Mount Tahoma High School.

Among three graduates was LaForrest Church, who received the baton from Villarma in second place behind Federal Way’s Michael Tate during the championship race, but managed to hold him off. Church, who now is a distance runner at the University of Memphis, also won the 4A title in the 800 in 1:51.82.

“That obviously hurts a little bit, but honestly I’m not too concerned about that,” said Villarma, referring to the loss of Church, Adam Gascoyne and Zach Sleigh. “I’m just as excited as I was last year.”

There are a few reasons behind that. Senior Bastian Tabacchi, who focused on the 400 relay in 2013, was a staple of the 1,600-relay team as a sophomore. Villarma said the team also has benefited from talented newcomers, such as freshman Izaijha Byrd, and others vying for varsity positions.

“It’s nice to have that extra push,” he said.

Tabacchi said he likes the 1,600 team’s talent and depth, as well. But he believes other factors will determine whether they can duplicate last season’s success.

“The key thing for relays is really teamwork,” Tabacchi said. “You have to have good, strong relationships. We’re working on handoffs and team-bonding skills, too.”

Paul Zimmer, who co-coaches the team with Kathy Ballew and multiple assistants, is confident the 1,600 team can acclimate and remain successful.

“I don’t think we will be as fast [as last year], but I think there’s enough ability to move it through the state meet,” he said. “There’s enough firepower to put together a team that can be competitive and possibly make it back to the state finals.”

The 1,600 team is not alone in its state aspirations. Villarma said he is 3 seconds shy of Lou Bourdreau’s school-record time of 4:15.34 set in 1973 in the 800 and is “determined to break it” en route to state.

And then there is freshman Nolan Van Amen.

Last summer, Van Amen competed in the Track City International Classic at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, where he spun the discus 204 feet, 11 inches, to set a national age group (13-14) record. Earlier at that event, Van Amen threw the shot put 60-03 to break the previous meet record set in 1995.

“Nolan Van Amen is a new person, but he’s been talked about a lot around the state,” Zimmer said.

On the girls side, South features a younger team. Shannon Laupola, a junior, was the team’s lone state qualifier last year. She finished 10th at that meet in the javelin at 120-04.

“I’m looking forward to this season,” said Laupola, adding that she is working to improve her arm strength, flexibility and footwork. “I felt last year I got a lot of good experience, so now I’m really prepared for the competition that is coming up.”

Zimmer said a pair of distance runners — sophomore Isabelle Donovan and freshman Eva Knowles — and junior hurdler Alexa James are among others to watch.

That does not mean others cannot emerge, though. Zimmer praised the work ethic of the boys and girls squads.

“It’s a really eager team,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where I’m having to tone them down and tell them they can’t do six events.”

Both the Wolves’ boys and girls teams will compete in their first nonleague meet Saturday at the Tacoma Invitational at Lincoln. South then will participate in the April 19 Larry Eason Invitational at Snohomish.

“Eason is a pretty big meet for us,” Zimmer said. “It kind of gives us a good gauge of what’s going to move on.”

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