TRACK PREVIEW | Wolves look to run toward record

South Kitsap’s boys 1,600-meter relay seeks to break school-best mark

He is the lone remaining participant from South Kitsap’s 1,600-meter relay team that won a Class 4A state championship two seasons ago.

And Mason Villarma thinks the current iteration could be even better.

“I think we kind of look at it as a challenge to break the record we set,” he said. “I think we’re very capable of it. We’ve got a lot of talent and younger guys that are pretty good.”

Villarma — along with LaForrest Church, who now competes at the University of Memphis, Adam Gascoyne and Zach Sleigh — ran the 1,600 in 3 minutes, 18.39 seconds, to fend off Federal Way 2013.

Paul Zimmer, who co-coaches the team along with LaRae Rodriguez, thinks the current quartet could be better than the school-record holders in that event.

“We did our 400 time trial,” he said, adding that each participant finished in 51-52 seconds. “It was kind of scary the times the guys were knocking off. They’re faster than the team that broke the school record at this stage of the game.”

Zimmer said the composition of the teams are different — the current group relies more on sprinters — but they both possess enviable depth. The 2013 team had enough runners that Bastian Tabacchi focused on the 400 relay. This year’s team also has “five or six guys who could be vying for those positions,” according to Zimmer. In addition to Villarma, he mentioned sophomores Izaijha Byrd, Matthew Feriancek and Shane Fitzpatrick and senior Troy Delgado.

Last year’s team also started strong — it won the Eason Invitational in April in 3:31 at Snohomish High School — but could not recover when Villarma, the team’s anchor runner, sustained a season-ending left ankle sprain May 4 while jogging in Banner Forest.

That incident makes Zimmer cautious about making grandiose proclamations.

“We’ll see how it shakes out,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep everybody healthy and to that point.”

Barring injury, the Wolves expect to be successful. Villarma attributes that to the coaching staff.

“The 4-by-4 always has been kind of a staple for South Kitsap,” he said. “Everybody is expected to be able to run a 400, so I think that’s what makes our program great in middle distance.”

In addition to the 1,600-relay team, Villarma expects to run the 400 and 800 this season and is aiming “at going top three in both” at state.

He is not the Wolves’ only competitor with significant postseason aspirations. Nolan Van Amen became the program’s first freshman to earn a state championship in the discus with a throw of 160 feet, 10 inches. It was the only state event for Van Amen, who scratched on all three of his throws in the shot put during the 4A Narrows League Championships at Shelton.

“Growing year last year as a freshman,” said Zimmer, who believes Van Amen will benefit from the instruction of assistant coach Renard Williams, who won the 4A state shot put title with a throw of 59-03 as a senior in 2007 at South. “He made a few mistakes. He learned from them. He’s more driven this year … and I think he’s fitter.”

Van Amen is not the Wolves’ only thrower with postseason prospects. On the girls side, senior Shannon Laupola was the school’s lone female state qualifier. She finished second during last year’s 4A West Central/Southwest Bi-District meet in the javelin with a throw of 129-08. Classmate Alexus Richardson, who fell short of state in the discus and shot put, also returns.

Richardson said several throwers, including Laupola, participated in the University of Washington’s track clinics, which occurred during Wednesday nights from November to February. She said she received instruction from UW assistant coach T.J. Crater and noticed a difference.

“I’ve got my discus spin down pretty good,” Richardson said. “It improved my performance greatly.”

But Zimmer said there is more to the girls team than field events. He noted that several of the school’s soccer players, including seniors Hailey Parker and Rachael Prince, turned out.

“Most of them are not bogged up with club soccer,” he said. “Most of them kind of know where they’re going to school next year. They can kind of put a little more time into this, come and have some fun and try something different.”

Because of that, Zimmer feels the girls team is “going to surprise some people this year.” He believes the influx of athletes also will buoy the relay teams.

The Wolves’ only meet this month is March 27 at Gig Harbor. But they embark on a busy schedule highlighted with a variety of invitationals in April. South returns April 18 to the Eason Invitational and then goes to the Bellevue Invitational a week later. Both events, Zimmer said, give the Wolves an opportunity to see programs they do not traditionally compete against before the postseason.