Ashland High distance runners Wilder Schaaf and Seena Frantz both have proven that they can compete for state championships in two different events. But in order to get that opportunity, they'll first have to do something that's nearly as daunting: escape their own conference.
Both will try to do that this week, as the Southern Sky Conference district track and field championships will be held Thursday and Saturday at John F. Moehl Stadium in Klamath Falls.
Schaaf, a junior, and Frantz, a senior, are among a handful of Grizzlies with legitimate shots at finishing in the top two in their respective events — that's a worthy goal since the top two placers in each event earn automatic berths to next week's state championships at Hayward Field in Eugene.
Other Grizzlies gunning for SSC supremacy will be senior hurdler Daniel Cowan, senior sprinter Cy Senestraro, junior sprinter Carolyn Thomas and senior distance runner Ryland Karlovich.
In the Class 5A ranks, Schaaf is ranked No. 1 in the 1,500-meter run (4 minutes, 2.90 seconds) and No. 3 in the 3,000 (8:59.38), but one of his top rivals in both events, Crater senior Zach Elliott, could throw a wrench in Schaaf's state qualifying hopes. Elliott has the top time in the 3,000 (8:48.61) and the fourth-best time in the 1,500 (4:08.63).
"I'm just going to try to go at Zach Elliott (in the 3,000)," Schaaf said prior to Tuesday's practice at the AHS track. "I'm just going to try to stay with him. He usually tries to make moves at some point during the race. I'm just going to try to stick with what he's got. I'm not going to try to win that race, just to qualify for state."
Schaaf's strategy will probably be different in the 1,500, but on Tuesday he was still mulling over his options.
"In the 1,500, I want to go out ahead of him because I think I can just run faster than him the whole way," he said. "But (AHS coaches) Jeff (Olsen) and Bob (Julian Jr.) think it's probably a better idea for me to stay behind him for like two laps because I have better speed than him, so I can just draft off him and see what I can do in the second half of the race."
Frantz has an even tougher road in the girls distance races. She ranks third in the state in the 3,000 (10:36.3) and fourth in the 1,500 (4:49.69), but will be an underdog in both events at districts. That's because Crater senior Kayleigh Tyerman has the top 5A time in both events (4:33.2 in the 1,500 and 10:05.12 in the 3,000), and Klamath Union senior Chelsa McDonnell is ranked No. 2 in the 1,500 (4:49.67) and No. 5 in the 3,000 (10:41.94).
Cowan is ranked third in both hurdle events, but the difference between the No. 1 and No. 4 Southern Sky hurdlers this season is miniscule. Klamath Union sophomore Ted Wogan has the league's top time in the 110 high hurdles (16.24) and Crater junior Josh Dalton is ranked No. 1 in the 300 intermediate hurdles (42.62), but Cowan isn't far behind in either event — his top time in the 110 is 16.34 and his best finish in the 300 is 42.78.
"My goal is to give it all I've got," Cowan said. "The guys that I've competed against are all right with me. We were all really close in the Grants Pass meet."
Cowan's goal is to qualify for state.
"I'd say I have about a 50-50 chance," he said.
Senestraro enters districts with the fourth-best time in the 100 (11.34) and fifth best in the 200 (23.44). He also runs a leg for Ashland's 4x400 relay team, which is ranked third in the conference.
Thomas ranks sixth in the 200, seventh in the 400 and sixth in the long jump, while Karlovich ranks third in the 3,000 and fourth in the 1,500.
The boys and girls 3,000 races wrap up the first day of competition, with the girls slated to start at 7:45 p.m. and the boys at 8:05. Thursday's schedule also includes the preliminaries for the running events as well as finals in the boys pole vault, boys long jump, boys high jump, boys shot put, girls long jump, girls javelin and girls discus.
The girls 1,500 is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, followed immediately by the boys race.
Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or firstname.lastname@example.org