NASELLE — Rob Baker, taking over at the helm of Naselle’s track team after the retirement of long-time coach Debby Denny, inherits a team that brings back the great majority of its State competitors from last season, including shot-put champion Lilli Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was the dark-horse winner of the 1B State shot put title as a sophomore last season. She got her shot puts above 30 feet midway through the season, then took first at a meet for the first time at Districts, where she beat her personal best by over two feet. At State she gained another five inches for a winning mark of 35’4.75”.
Zimmerman routinely high-jumped 4’6” last year, a mark that placed her 10th at State, and got as high as 4’10” at an April home meet. Baker says Zimmerman may branch out further this year, as she is a candidate for the 4x200 relay team. But the shot put is unquestionably her specialty. This year, Zimmerman has a specialist shot-put coach, with whom she works outside of regular practice. Zimmerman’s shot-put win was Naselle’s only first-place finish in Cheney last year.
Boys strong, too
The Comets boys should also get some good throwing performances. That was the strength of the team last year, with Shon McEneny and Erik Lund both finishing in the top ten at State in the discus and javelin throws, and both these athletes return this season.
The boys’ team could be more well-rounded this year. Jack Rouche adds some speed and may compete in the 100-meter hurdles this season, an event Naselle’s boys did not compete in last season. Faaoso Tutu’u took second in the District 100-meter dash at 12.22, by far the best time for a freshman at the meet. Baker sees him rising, describing him as “more dialed in this year.” Naselle’s Cody Condon and Gabriel Gilbert were the next two fastest freshmen in the District last year in the 100. Baker said Ian Fontanilla, who competed in the long jump, triple jump and relay teams last year, could try the 300-meter hurdles this season.
Among the 20 Comets who competed at State, Naselle loses only two to graduation, both on the girls’ side, but they are big losses: Ellie Chapman, who had two firsts and two seconds at District last year and was top four in all four of her events at State, and Amelia Tutu’u, who competed at State in the javelin throw and 100-meter hurdles. Lia Willenbrock, an exchange student last year, is another departure.
Willenbrock and Tutu’u contributed to the success of the relay teams, which placed between sixth and twelfth at State last season. (The boys were ninth and fifteenth in their two relays.) Baker is devoting extensive focus in practice to perfecting timing on handoffs to cut relay times. “A lot of the relayers were freshmen last year. They’re getting stronger.”
Along with Zimmerman, top returning athletes for the girls’ team include all-around star Sophie Scrabeck. She is the defending District champion in the javelin throw and took seventh in the event at State. She also high jumps 4’6”. In the pole vault, Scrabeck tied for fifth at State with an eight-foot vault after clearing 8’6” at District.
The Comet girls will likely be thin in the hurdle events with Tutu’u and Chapman gone. Baker said Zanith Wolf is interested in the 300 meters, though she has a long list of interests and may have to pare it down. Wolf was the district’s only girls’ pole vault competitor besides Scrabeck and so went to State, where she vaulted 6’6”. She also had a 12-foot long jump last season.
To keep athletes at peak performance, Baker is looking to prevent the minor, nagging injuries the team saw last year. “We’re focusing on injury prevention: icing a lot, taping something before it starts hurting,” he said. Baker was the assistant track coach last season and the cross-country coach this fall. He graduated from Naselle in 2012 after a track career that included District titles in the high jump and 110-meter hurdles.