CHS TRACK: Lady Cats look to defend 5A title

Colt Merrin, left, and Derrick Phillips practice baton handoffs for the 400 relay during Wednesday’s boys track practice at Leon Williams Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Darrel Ray knows his Clovis High girls track team has some points to replace after winning a Class 5A state team title last spring, but he figures others are in the same boat.

Ray, whose team opened with a team championship in the Belen Invitational last week, likes what he sees this spring as the Lady Cats look for a repeat.

“We’ve probably lost about 30 points from last year, but others have lost points, too,” Ray said. “Since we had about a 20-point margin, I would think we’d be in pretty good shape.”

Clovis teams are slated to participate in the Gene Wells Invitational at Hobbs on Saturday, which will serve as the boys’ season opener.

The Lady Cats competed shorthanded last weekend, with seven of their athletes playing in the 5A state basketball championship game in Albuquerque. Several of those girls should help Ray’s squad, including defending 5A high jump champion Ebony Bunton.

“I think this year’s team is going to look more like a traditional Clovis team,” Ray said. “We’ve got a lot of good, young sprinters. I believe we’re faster than last year.”

Bunton leads a strong stable of jumpers, while seniors Kacee Escobar and Lorena Garza should give the Lady Cats scoring in the throwing events. Junior Lauren McDaniel should be a key in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays, Ray said, while sophomore Caitlin Waters could challenge the state record (under 2:14) in the 800 after finishing second at state last year at 2:17.69.

Meantime, the boys are looking to bounce back from their lowest state finish — tied for eighth — in Darren Kelley’s seven years as coach.

Kelley said the Wildcats should be able to put out a well-rounded team.

“Our field events are in better shape,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of everything — we’re deeper and stronger. We had four or five guys who (did most of the scoring) last year.”

Junior Manuel Robles returns as a two-time 5A triple jump champion, and should also help in long jump and high jump.

“He can be as good as he wants to be,” Kelley said. “Our goal is to try to get close to 50 feet (in triple jump).

“Manuel’s got a legitimate chance of being a big scorer at the state meet.”

Senior Brian Mead (110 hurdles) and sophomore Brandon Williams (400) should do well on the track. Kelley said the Cats are hoping for points from seniors Michael Cohen and Skyler Hodson in shot put, and juniors Jordan Mendoza in javelin and Dominique Chairez in discus.

Senior James Chavez is the team’s top distance runner, and Kelley said the Cats should be able to put together some competitive relays.

“Our goal is to win the (District 4-5A) meet,” he said. “We’ll know more about our team after the Wildcat Relays (April 13 at Leon Williams Stadium).”