David Pauls has a problem he’s happy to have.
With 47 athletes making up this year’s St. Helena High track and field team, the head coach had to add a fifth member to his staff to lighten the workload with the influx of young runners who came out for the team this season.
“For sure, our numbers are definitely higher than in years past,” Pauls said recently. “I think I had one year back in 2013 where we had a team that was about 45. So this is a large group of athletes, which is great for the program. It’s great to have those numbers. It’s also a little bit daunting, as well, basically having four coaches and trying to meet everybody’s needs. But I think it’s going to be a great season.”
Twenty-six boys and 21 girls make up the roster this year and the increased turnout has Pauls and the Saints optimistic and confident entering the 2019 season. The boys return a key core of runners who should be in the mix for conference and, possibly, section titles. The girls team has more than doubled in size since last year, when it featured only 10 athletes total.
An added bonus this year for Pauls is that the turnout hasn’t simply been because other athletes are using track and field to stay in shape for other sports. Pauls has seen increased genuine interest in track and field.
“As far as my experience with the team is concerned, we have more dedicated track athletes than we’ve ever had,” he said. “I mean, we still have a number of athletes that I think may call another sport their primary sport … but I think we have more serious, dedicated track athletes than we’ve ever had.”
Pauls believes that this is due to the Saints’ recent success on the track. The boys team won the Coastal Mountain Conference title back in 2017, and then finished a close second to Middletown last season. The girls haven’t been as dominant, due to lower numbers, but they’ve had success in their own right.
Twelve freshmen, 14 sophomores, 13 juniors and eight seniors make up this year’s team.
The freshmen are Charles Carpy, Fiona Crowley, Sophia Trujillo, Logan Uhlig, Samantha Uribe, Clayton Burton, Anjali Felder, Elguin Flores Espana, Katherine Heffernan, Kai Randall-Darter, Ivan Robledo and Olivia Smith.
The sophomores are Cydney Adamson, Sienna Beringer, Elisa Bianchi, Reynaldo Gonzalez, Eva Grace, Conlan Harrington, Summer Krell, Daniel Martinez, Harper McClain, Irwin Ramirez Palma, Grace Schlangen, Jade Schlatter, William Wesner and Aliyah Flamson Rubaclava.
The juniors are Paulina Bautista, Ellie Blakeley, Ryland Campos, Collin Darrall, Cody DiTomaso, Samuel “Smiley” Dodane, Kristina Isdahl, Jacob Lehman, Jacob Mendes, Quinn Randall-Darter, Jordan Reilly, Donovan Solano and Ryan Searl.
The seniors are John Baker, Josue Blanco, Jenna DeVincenzi, Citlalli Garcia, Andrea Hernandez, Christian Iano, Dawson Landis and Jordi Ramirez.
To try to meet everyone’s needs with this larger team, Pauls brought in Tony Montelli to coach throwers. He joins an already all-star staff made up of Bob Cantrall (sprints, 4x100 relay), Michael Roche (middle distance, 4x400 relay, long jump), Chris Cole (distance) and Pauls (hurdles, high jump, triple jump), a group with more than 100 years of combined coaching experience, according to Pauls.
The Saints have competed in only one meet so far this season, the Tim Bruder Relays on March 9 at Alhambra High School in Martinez, but did find some early-season success there.
The boys and girls varsity 4x400 relay teams both finished first in their events. The girls team, comprised of McClain, Bianchi, Heffernan and Schlatter, finished with a time of 4 minutes and 47.39 seconds. The boys team of Baker, Blanco, Reilly and Ramirez finished in 3:51.99.
Other strong finishes for the boys include the varsity SMR 1600m (second place, 3:56.75), the varsity DMR 1200-400-800-1600m (third place, 11:45.63) and the frosh/soph 4x400m relay (second place, 4:21.20).
Aside from the first-place finish in the 4x400m, the girls had success in the 1600m with Schlatter finishing sixth and McClain seventh in 6:02.82 and 6:04.57.
Those results signal a promising start to the season, especially considering the Saints were cooped up inside for over a week due to the heavy rain that saturated the Napa Valley several weeks ago.
But that was all right with Pauls. Practice at this point in the season centers around mastering the fundamentals, which was easily doable in the confines of the high school’s gyms and weight room.
“The main thing during this time of year is preparing your body for the rigors of the season and in track and field,” he said. “When you’re running and jumping and throwing, it’s a lot of impact on your body. So we’re doing a lot of strength work, a lot of flexibility work, endurance work and then also just going through the motions of our warm-up routine, our dynamic exercises, our flexibility routine and just having that ingrained. It’s building their bodies up so that they can have a solid base of fitness.”
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The Saints return a handful of strong runners looking to build on their success last season.
Searl is coming off a sophomore season where he ran the fastest 100-meter time (10.94) and the third-fastest 200 time (23.29s) in the CMC while fellow junior DiTomaso had the second-fastest 200 (23.24s) and 400 (52.89s) times in the conference. In the hurdles, Lehman recorded the third-fastest 110-meter (16.40s) and second-fastest 300-meter (44.29) times.
In the sprint relays, the Saints return a majority of the group that turned in the fastest 4x100 time and second-fastest 4x400 times last season.
Reilly, a junior, put together a strong cross country season in the fall and should also be one of the stronger distance runners for St. Helena this year.
The Saints are well-suited to compete for another conference title on the track, but the field events are not as much of a guarantee. They had only one thrower in either the shot put or discus that had a top-10 result last season. They had a bit more success in the jumps, but all these events remain an area of focus for Pauls this year.
“We can’t just dominate the track, which has been the case with our team,” he said. “We need to have athletes be a little more well-rounded and we need to put them in situations where they can be scoring points in all the field and jumping events so that we’re solid across the board.
“Primarily, we’re going to have almost 90 percent of our athletes competing in three or four events and it should be spread out. It’s not just going to be on the track. We’re going to encourage them to get into field events and figure out what areas they can contribute in for the success of the team.”
The North Central League I is arguably the strongest in the CMC when it comes to track and field, and that should play out similarly again this year. Middletown and Fort Bragg are poised to be the top competition for the conference title with the Saints this year.
Looking at the numbers he has on the girls side now, Pauls is reminded of his larger girls teams he had in the past, several of which won CMC titles. Those teams were loaded with upperclassmen, which made them strong competitors for a couple years before they graduated.
Since then, the Saints haven’t turned out a girls team with similar results. Pauls thinks that could change soon.
A majority of the athletes on this year’s team are underclassmen, giving Pauls hope that the future could be very, very bright.
“We’ve told them that their potential coming in as freshmen and having the quantity of them and their athletic potential, they could be really good this year and in future years,” Pauls said. “They could be really strong.
“This year it feels like we have this resurgence of energy and enthusiasm with the girls.”
The top results on the track last year belonged to Schlatter. As a freshman, she had the 10th-fastest 800 (2:46.23) time and the fourth fastest 1,600 (5:56.36) time in the CMC.
In the field events, Hernandez, who is entering her fourth year on the team, pulled in the eighth-best long jump last year at 14 feet, 1.5 inches. Isdahl recorded a 4-foot, 4-inch attempt in the high jump, tied for the ninth best in the conference last season.
The girls should be competitive this year, but teams like Fort Bragg, Middletown and Cloverdale all seem poised to vie for the conference crown.
St. Helena will host several home meets this year. The next will be March 27 against Middletown, before they hit the road for a few weeks. They return to St. Helena on April 17 for a meet against Cloverdale before hosting the CMC meet on May 4.