PREP TRACK: Cats sport youthful look

Clovis High seniors (front to back) Augi Briseno, Brandon Cook and Tanner Fickling work on their starts during Wednesday’s Clovis High boys track practice at Leon Williams Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

While Darren Kelley knows how hard it is trying to win a Class 5A state track championship, he’d at least like to keep one streak going.

In his previous six seasons as the Clovis High boys coach, the Wildcats have finished in the top five in the state meet every year.

“Our goal is to get a trophy (top-three finish) at state,” Kelley said as the Cats prepare for Saturday’s season-opening Gene Wells Invitational at Hobbs. “But we want to at least be a top-five team.”

Clovis lost three key performers to graduation in sprinter Phillip Williams, hurdler Damian Robinson and distance runner Matt Loewen. Whatever success the Cats have will come from a group effort, Kelley said.

“Our problem is we don’t have the stud sprinter that’s going to get first or second (place) every time,” he said. “But the advantage we have is we’ve got a lot of guys about equal in speed, so we’ll be able to put together some relays.”

Among the top returnees are junior Brian Mead, a finalist in the 110 hurdles at state each of the last two years, and defending 5A triple jump champion Manuel Robles, who last spring became the first Clovis freshman to qualify for state in all three jumping events.

Kelley said first-timer Rishard Matthews, a junior, will also help on relays and in the jumps.

“Rishard’s got the ability to do anything he wants,” Kelley said.

Points in the throwing events could come from senior Mel Grassel, junior Michael Cohen and sophomore Taylor Muse, Kelley said.

“The best thing for us right now is we’re basically an underclassmen team,” he said. “Tanner Fickling and Mike Wareham are the only two seniors on the track, so it looks good for the next couple of years.”

Fickling helped the Cats place third in the 1,600 and medley relays and fourth in the 800 relay last year at state.

“We don’t have a real top sprinter, but we have consistent guys,” Fickling said. “In the quarter (400 meters), everybody is around 51 or 52 (seconds) right now.

“It’s fun to be in the relays. I like to get my open events here and there, but I know I can count on the guys I’m running with to take care of their business.”

Kelley thinks the Cats have a decent chance to extend their run of District 4-5A titles to four in what is now just a three-team grouping with Carlsbad and Hobbs. He added, though, that the Cavemen could pose a serious challenge.

“We’re going to have to work hard to beat Carlsbad,” he said. “They’re a little better than they’ve been.”

Fickling said he’s anxious to get going.

“We have a bunch of young guys with a lot of talent,” he said. “I think if we keep focused, we can do pretty good this year.”