Encampment High School is fielding a youthful team this year, but the team's coach, Kegan Willford, is confident the young team will do well not only this year, but well into the future.
Willford said the team this year is made of 18 students which is about the same as the team last year. With 11 boys and seven girls, the team is anchored by younger, up-and-coming athletes. This year, the team only has two seniors, McKenzie Powell on the girls' side, and first-time trackster Justin Bonner on the boys' team.
The team also has five juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen. Of the two seniors, one, Justin Bonner, is in his first year on track. But the lone senior girl, McKenzie Powell, is a returning superstar, according to Willford.
"We have McKenzie Powell coming back, our senior with all the experience that she has," Willford said. "She's won a state championship in the past and she's a great teammate to have around, a great positive influence and she's really knowledgeable about the sport as well."
On the girls' team, Willford said he thinks the team will see the most success in track events, like throwing the discus and shotput, also with some strong competition in jumping events. Willford also said experienced members of the girls' team, like Powell, should not be counted out on the running front.
At the team's first meet of the season Saturday in Casper, Powell proved Willford right, placing seventh in the 200-meter dash and first in the 400-meter dash.
In track events, the Encampment girls also did well. For shot put, Noelle Peterson placed ninth, Cheyanne Jordan hit 11th, and Hailey Barkhurst came in 20th. Jordan and Barkhurst came in 11th and 12th in discus, with Peterson coming in 17th.
On the boys' side, Willford said he is looking to underclassmen to lead the team now and into the future.
"From the boy's side, we have a lot of youth there, we don't have a lot of experience," he said. "We're looking at our 10th graders and ninth-graders to lead the team a little bit right now."
Willford pointed at freshmen Reid Schroeder and Jarom Herring as two youthful athletes he expects good things from this year, and even perhaps in future track seasons.
"Reid Schroeder and Jarom Herring had both done well in cross-country in Saratoga in the fall," he said. "And so those two I'm hoping should do pretty well as freshman."
For the team, both boys and girls, Willford said a primary goal as coach is to help students set and achieve goals. Every athlete has a goal-setting partner he said, and makes long-term goals that stretch the entire season or even into future years. Other goals are short term, he said.
"We want to have reachable short-term goals," Willford said. "That helps the kids to build confidence and see their improvement in the sport."
Over the course of the team's weekend in Casper at the Glen Legler Invitational, the boys' running game showed signs of early-season athletic development. Encampment runner Sean Stewart ran the 800-meter run in 11th place, with Schroeder and Herring coming in 18th and 20th in the same event. Schroeder also hit No. 5 in the 1600-meter run with Herring coming in 15th.
Over the course of the weekend, the Encampment girls ended with the team in ninth place, and the boys finished the weekend in 19th place, a finish that showed the youth of the team, but also the gradual, incremental nature of the personal improvements Willford hopes will shape the team into the future.
Community support will also be an important ingredient to the success of the team, Willford said. Since Encampment High School is coming off a recent big win with the girls' Basketball team winning the state championship, the excitement among students, staff, parents and those in the town seems to be a bit contagious.
That sense of school spirit and community pride, Willford hopes, will be the thing that will help his young track team succeed in the field in the coming season and well into the future.
"Anytime you can come off that, that's one of the biggest athletic milestones you can achieve," he said. "That momentum kind of carries from one sport to the other.
"I've already seen a lot of intensity in practice, and I think that might have something to do with the state championship in basketball."