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KYUSUNG GONG , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Canyon pole vaulter Rachel Baxter, who finished second in the state last year, is among a group of standout athletes returning this season in Orange County.

O.C. track season could be soaring success

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

There appears to be no shortage of star power, or at least record-breaking potential, among Orange County’s track and field teams this season.

A few of last year’s standouts, such as Santa Margarita pole vaulter Kaitlyn Merritt, have moved on due to graduation, but there is a strong crop of returnees poised to soar to new heights.

That’s certainly the case in the girls and boys pole vault. While Merritt, a two-time state champion, is now at Stanford, the county’s field of possible state contenders includes Canyon’s Rachel Baxter, Santa Margarita’s Kate Thomas and Mater Dei’s McKenna Caskey. They placed second, third, and fifth, respectively, at state last spring. All three are juniors.

On the boys side, Marina’s Jett Gordon is also looking to soar to greater heights. He tied the winning mark of 15 feet, 9 inches at the state finals a year ago. Among his goals this year is setting a school record.

“The record for Marina is 16-8, I believe,” he said. “It was my goal ever since I heard about it sophomore year.”

Gordon, whose personal record is 16-1, is also targeting a jump of 17 feet, which has been done only twice in county history.

Esperanza’s Bronson Osborn has already broken the Orange County record in the shot put this year. The junior opened the season on Feb. 27 with a mark of 70 feet at the Corona Relays. The previous record (69, 6 1/2) was set by Capistrano Valley’s Brian Blutreich in 1985.

Two of the county’s top distance stars return. Brea Olinda’s Austin Tamagno and Tesoro’s Amanda Gehrich both have state titles to defend in the 1,600 meters.

Baxter is the reigning Orange County champion. She recently made a lifetime best clearance of 13-4 during the indoor season at the UCS National Pole Vault Summit.

Baxter also competes in high jump and the 100 for the fifth-ranked Comanches.

“The team overall is going to be better than it was last year,” she said, “just based on the fact that we’re getting older and stronger.”

Alexis Turley-Young is the other major force on Canyon’s girls team. The senior is a four-event athlete - 100, 100 hurdles, long jump and triple jump. Turley-Young won Crestview League titles in all four events a year ago. She is the defending county champion in the high hurdles.

The Eagles won the CIF-SS Division 3 title a year ago, and they hope they can repeat that success. But replacing Merritt’s leadership will be a challenge.

“I want to work hard to be the next leader like she was and give Santa Margarita a good name,” said Thomas, who jumped a career best 13 feet at CIF-SS Finals last year.

The track remains a strength for Santa Margarita, especially in relays. Mallory Barnes, Lauren Drysch, Nikki Merritt and Tessa Green combined to run the 400 relay in 47.98 seconds at the Eagle Invitational on Feb. 27.

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GIRLS TRACK PREVIEW

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BOYS TRACK PREVIEW

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