By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Calling new head track coach John Ita a "first-year coach" might be a bit of a stretch, considering he's been with the Havre High track program for 10 years.
"I don't really look at myself as being a first-year head coach," Ita said, who has taken over the program from veteran coach Bob Lanning.
The Blue Pony track team is more than two weeks into practice and will face its first outing on Saturday at Glasgow.
Goals for the Blue Ponies are to increase the number of participants, build a solid program to enhance others at Havre, and to see the girls' program "come back to life," Ita said.
The number of participants is more than double last season's numbers, so one goal has already been met, Ita said.
"Track just makes you a better athlete," he added. "Other coaches are using track to strengthen other athletes, and that strengthens other programs."
As for the girls' program, Ita said, a strong freshman class participated last year, and that has been retained and added to this season.
"We kept many of our good athletes, and we also retained quality athletes in the upper classes," Ita said.
The boys, who finished in the middle of the pack last season, return some quality in a number of events.
With only seven senior boys on the roster, Jesse Suek is a state-experienced senior who could lead the throwing events.
Senior Jake Dusek also looks strong in the early season in the long jump and triple jump.
Junior Brent Finneman looks good in the sprints, Ita said, and Adam Landgraf also looks quick, which could be a solid foundation to a relay.
Garrett Watson has been training for long distance and appears competitive, Ita said.
Jared Gabriel, a sophomore, has been working hard on sprints, Ita said, while junior Brian DeRosa has been working on jumps and hurdles.
Joe Roman and Grant Roman, who are both juniors, run middle distance, and junior Matt Sasaki looks strong in the throwing events.
On the girls' side, all five seniors should be point-getters this season for the Ponies.
Tami Huestis looks strong in the throwing events, while Erin Patera runs a quick relay and has been looking good at the javelin, Ita said.
"She is just a good quality person," he added. Patera, in 1998, jumped 341/4 in the triple jump, which landed her a third-place spot in the Blue Pony hall of fame.
Tamara Sullins, a first-year transfer from Anaconda, will run middle distance for the Ponies. She was a state competitor in the 400 last season.
Cara Holmquist is in her second year at the pole vault and looks to beat the 9-foot mark this season.
Alyssa Matter, Jess Leonard, and LaShae Michels are the speed in the junior class.
Leonard is in her first year in the program, while Michels is a returning state competitor the long jump and triple jump. Michels is fifth in the Blue Pony hall of fame with a 300-meter hurdle time of 50.6. Junior Brandy Thomas is working on the javelin.
Distance runners Erin Lynch, Jillian Brough, and Jennie Peterson also look good in the early season.
As a sophomore, Peterson also entered the Blue Pony hall of fame with a 5:28.10 one-mile, and a 12:04.3 two-mile. She is third in both events at the high school.
The sophomore class returns some quality athletes this season, Ita said.
Jamie Branden will do quick relays and sprints, while Maureen Porter is working on her second year in the pole vault.
Jeri Matter and Amy Ranes both qualified for state in the high jump as freshman, and return strong.
Freshmen Jenna Baltrusch in distance, Brooke Schwan in hurdle and jumps, Sara Suek, and Sherry Winchell in middle distance all look good early.
"One goal for the girls is to get all 17 events filled, and it looks good right now," Ita said.
The Blue Ponies will take a partial team to the Glasgow Invitational on Saturday.