Another banner year

Coastline Pilot

Another season has gone into the history books for the Laguna Beach High track and field program.

Both the Laguna boys' and girls' teams won an Orange Coast League championship. Several individuals won league titles in their respective events, and several qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division IV meet and CIF finals at Cerritos College.

Both teams will lose key senior members to graduation in the next week, but despite that, the track and field program is showing no sign of a let-up.

When Scott Wittkop became head coach of the boys' program three years ago, he said approximately 100 athletes came out for the track and field season. That number has nearly increased by half.

"The total track program has grown to 140 athletes," he said. "I believe that each year the program has grown stronger and we have become a better team from top to bottom."

Numbers-wise, the program is strong. Tradition-wise, the program continues to make its mark.

But winning league titles and individual accolades doesn't come without a price.

It comes with complete dedication, said Wittkop who coaches varsity boys and girls' sprints in a well-rounded program with a staff that includes Steve Lalim (head varsity girls'/distance coach), Mark Harris (long and triple jump), Fred Pichay (high jump), Carista Strickland (distance), Jeff Bockert (hurdles), Judd Binley (throws) and Jonathon Todd (throws).

"Our entire coaching staff is really supportive of us," senior Brett Linkletter said.

Linkletter, who will compete next year at USC, qualified for CIF in all four of his events: 400-meter dash, long jump, triple jump and 1600-meter relay.

"When I came into the program three years ago, Coach Wittkop had just started. He has been so committed to the program. He brought back the Trophy Invite, which hadn't been held at the school in a really long time."

"I think one of the things that the coaching staff showed me was that you can't be competitive in a competition if you're not competitive in practice. We had some great practices. Every year, it's been a leap forward for our track program."

The tradition-rich program brought back the Trophy Invite a few years ago. Laguna hosted the first "minor" division track meet in 1937 and thus began the annual Trophy meet which was held nearly every year until 1983. Next year's event, set for March 19, 2011, will start at the traditional time of 8:41 a.m., the two-mile time for Laguna's state champion, Eric Hulst.

Last year, a fundraiser helped the program purchase a Lynks Timing System that electronically times every event and includes photo finishes.

"We do not use a stop watches anymore," Wittkop said.

At the Orange Coast League championships in early-May, the Laguna girls won the team title behind several outstanding performances. Winning individual titles were sophomore Natasha Strickland who won twice (1,600, 3,200 meters), sophomore Lauren Montgomery (100-meter hurdles), junior Samantha Gardner (shot put) and junior Christianne Kinder (high jump). Additionally, the Breakers' 4 by 100 meter relay team of senior Alex Degarmo, senior Christina Gardilcic, senior Sabina Seyster and senior Jessie Good Man, also won league.

Earlier in the season at the OC Championships, Strickland set a school record (11:13) in the 3,200 meters. It was the fastest run for the Laguna program in the last 25 years, Lalim said.

Breakers who qualified for CIF were Degarmo and sophomore Marisa Merchant in the 200 meters, Good Man in the 400 meters, Strickland and senior McKenna Nokes in the 1,600 meters, Strickland, Nokes and junior Carly Savage in the 3,200 meters, Montgomery in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, Kinder in the high jump; Seyster and senior Kate Winn in the long jump; Seyster and junior Christa French in the triple jump, Garner in the shot put, the 4 by 100 meter relay team of Gardilcic, Degarmo, Good Man, Seyster, (Merchant and French were alternates), and the 4 by 400 meter relay team of Good Man, Merchant, senior Alex Kempler and Tori Toma (Montgomery alternate).

Good Man (400 meters) and Strickland and Nokes (3,200) qualified last year for CIF, as well.

At the CIF Track and Field Championships May 22, Strickland ran into the Laguna Beach record book by running an 11:06 in the girls' Division IV 3200 meter run, good for fourth-place in Division IV. Her time bettered by seven seconds the previous school-record time of 11:13, also held by Strickland.

"I thought Natasha had an amazing year," Lalim said after the finals meet. "She went from being a good runner, to a great runner. She's running at a whole different level."

In winning the boys' Orange Coast League championship, Sean Pigden (800 meters), Matt Neev (1,600 and 3,200) and Brett Linkletter (long jump), claimed individual titles. Breakers moving on to the CIF prelims meet were Linkletter, Pigden (100 meters), Neev (1,800, 3,200 meters), Tommy Newton (1,800, 3,200 meters), junior Aaron Swartz (1,800 meters), senior Blake Hofmeister (3,200 meters), senior Alex Masukawa (long jump), freshman Ricky Delatorre (shot put) and the 4 by 400 meter relay team of sophomore Tyler Nichols, junior Norte Penney, Linkletter and Pigden.

Newton, Hofmeister and Neev are past CIF qualifiers.

At the CIF Division IV finals meet May 22, Newton (4:24.19) finished second in the boys' 1600 meters, Neev (4:26.03) was two spots back of Newton in fourth-place, Pigden (1:59.18) was fifth in the 800 meter run and Linkletter (20-feet-6) to finish eighth in the pole vault.

Several of the Laguna seniors will continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level next year.

The program, however, figures to continue to reload.

"We believe that the program is only going to get better," Wittkop said. "Our goal is to win our fifth-straight league championship and compete for a CIF title."

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