They are definitely a year older. Whether the leading performers of the Palmdale High girls' track team are a year wiser and capable of performing better under pressure might not be known until mid-May when the Falcons are expected to compete in the Southern Section Division I championships at Long Beach Veterans Stadium.
Predicted to contend for a top-five finish in the Division I meet last year, Palmdale placed seventh after freshman Kadrina Coffee, junior Kristi Rose and senior Sarah Phelps posted nonscoring sevenths in the 400, discus and high jump, respectively.
An asthma attack slowed Coffee to a time of 58.12 seconds in the 400 and forced her to withdraw from the 200 and the triple jump. Rose's throw of 120 feet 1 inch in the discus was more than 15 feet shy of her personal best, and Phelps' 5-2 clearance in the high jump was three inches below her best.
Coffee bounced back to help the Falcons to a runner-up finish in the 1,600 relay in 3:49.43. And junior Mikee Stafford and sophomore Carolina Geisseler placed second and fourth in the pole vault with personal bests of 9 feet and 8-6, yet a lack of big-meet experience seemed costly to Palmdale.
"I kind of thought we would have done better last year than we did," Palmdale Coach Steve Wilson said. "But we had never been in that situation before where we were considered one of the top teams. But I think that the girls grew up a lot last year and learned a lot and that will only help us this year."
Phelps and sprinter Sinead Younge graduated in June, but the rest of the Falcons' leading performers are back.
Coffee is the top sprinter on a team loaded with speed. She helped Palmdale lower the school record five times in the 1,600 relay last season--capped by a fifth-place effort of 3:47.78 in the State championships--and ran 53.96 to finish second in the 400 in the USA Track & Field junior (age 19 and under) championships in June.
The personal-best time moved her to fourth on the all-time region list. She also has run a wind-aided 24.1 in the 200 and bounded 37-9 1/2 in the triple jump and might add the 800 to her major-meet repertoire.
After Coffee comes a talented group of juniors. Edniesha Curry has bests of 55.8 in the 400, 2:24.2 in the 800 and 34-9 1/2 in the triple jump.
Monique Nolan has run 57.8 in the 400 and Tranisha Holmes has clocked 11.9 in the 100, a wind-aided 24.4 in the 200 and leaped 17-7 in the long jump.
Natasha Robinson, a junior varsity performer last year, has run 58.5 in the 400 and will take Younge's spot in the 1,600 relay alongside Coffee, Nolan and Curry.
That trio and Holmes will comprise a 400 relay team that could run substantially faster than the school record of 47.92 set last year.
If pole-vaulters Stafford and Geisseler can improve their personal bests and Rose can regain the form that saw her throw 135-10 in the discus in 1994, Palmdale could contend for a top-three finish in the section Division I championships.
The Falcons might start slowly because Rose, Curry, Nolan and Stafford were involved in the basketball playoffs for the past three weeks, but Wilson is confident that the team will excel when the championship meets begin in May.
"I'm not sure how the basketball season is going to affect us," he said. "It does mean that some of the girls are not going to get much rest between seasons. But I expect us to perform well at the [section championships] and hopefully, at the State meet."
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH:
Buena--The Bulldogs won't be as strong as last year's team, but they're still favored to win their third consecutive Channel League title.
Senior Stacy Hebert ran a personal best of 43.97 to place third in last year's Southern Section Division II championships in the 300 low hurdles. She won the league title in cross-country last fall and is versatile enough to score points in any running event at the dual- or triangular-meet level.
Juniors Meaghan Dunne, who has a personal best of 2:20.74 in the 800, and Barb Almaraz, who has run 5:17.39 in the 1,600, will lead a strong group of middle- and long-distance runners.
Senior Renee McCurtis and junior Angelina Sanderson should give the Bulldogs depth in the jumping events. McCurtis has bests of 16-4 in the long jump and 34-4 in the triple jump. Sanderson has cleared 4-10 in the high jump and leaped 15-11 in the long jump and 33-11 in the triple jump.
Newbury Park--The Panthers were runners-up to Thousand Oaks in the Marmonte League championships last year, but could win their first league title since 1979.
Senior Chrissie Sanford, junior Joy Munson and sophomore Jenny Kenyon should give Newbury Park solid depth in the sprints and jumps.
Sanford has bests of 60.9 in the 400, 5-2 in the high jump, 16-5 1/2 in the long jump and 34-2 1/4 in the triple jump.
Munson has run 26.56 in the 200 and leaped 16-0 in the long jump. She is the defending league champion in the triple jump (35-3 1/4). Kenyon has bests of 12.5 in the 100 and 26.55 in the 200.
Taft--Freshman Tiffany Smith and the sophomore trio of Frances Santin, Tynisha Howze and Eboni Grayson could help the Toreadors become the first team from the San Fernando Valley to win the City Section girls' title since Kennedy in 1983.
Smith posted personal bests of 12.2 in the 100, 25.2 in the 200 and 58.0 in the 400 for the West Valley Eagles last summer.
Santin was the runner-up in the 300 low hurdles in last year's City championships and has run 45.77 in that event. Howze placed fifth in the 400 in the City and has a best of 58.79.
Grayson placed sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 100 in the City and has bests of 25.92 and 12.5.
Thousand Oaks--Kim Mortensen, the 1995 national cross-country champion, will lead a superb distance squad that should post plenty of 1-2-3 finishes in dual and triangular meets.
Mortensen ran personal bests of 2:19.8 in the 800, 4:59.23 in the 1,600 and 10:42.85 in the 3,200 meters as a junior and won the mile in 4:53.27 in the L.A. Invitational at the Sports Arena two weeks ago. She's capable of winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in the league finals, but most likely will drop the 800.
Seniors Jelyn Lu and Michelle Stevenson should be among the league's best in their respective events and junior Jenna Baum is the defending league champion in the pole vault.
Lu has bests of 15-10 in the long jump and 34-2 1/2 in the triple jump and has run 16.4 in the 100 hurdles. Stevenson has a best of 5-4 in the high jump.
INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH:
Nicole Campbell (Ventura)--The Cougar junior peaked at the end of 1995, running a personal best 2:13.46 to place fourth in the 800 in the State championships. She won the Southern Section Division II and Masters Meet titles in 2:15.43 and 2:14.01.
Liz Giltner (Chaminade)--Sixth in the high jump in the last two State championships, the Eagle junior could contend for a top-three finish this year.
One of the nation's top prep heptathletes, she has personal bests of 5-8 in the high jump, 25.84 in the 200, 15.13 in the 100 hurdles and 17-9 in the long jump.
Andrea Neipp (Highland)--The Bulldog junior failed to qualify for the final of the 3,200 in last year's Southern Section Division I championships, but is coming off a superb cross-country season.
She placed second and third in the Division I races of the Southern Section and State championships and was 20th in the West Regional.
Bridget Pearson (Hoover)--Although just a freshman, Pearson is one of the favorites for the state title in the pole vault and cleared 10-6 to win the L.A. Invitational.
As an eighth-grader at Toll Junior High in Glendale, she cleared a personal best of 10-10. That would have tied her for sixth on the national high school list last year.
Michelle Perry (Quartz Hill)--Second, seventh and eighth in the 100 hurdles, long jump and 100 in the Southern Section Division I championships last year, the Rebel junior has personal bests of 11.96 in the 100, 24.70 in the 200, 14.48 in the 100 hurdles and 18-1 in the long jump.