Of the Baker City Herald

The Baker girls enter the 2001 Greater Oregon League track and field season as the defending league champions, not an unfamiliar position for the Bulldogs.

Baker has won three straight GOL titles, and 10 of the past 12 league crowns.

The Baker boys, who finished fifth in the GOL district meet a year ago, also are gearing up for another title run. Before last season, the Bulldogs had won four straight league championships.

Obviously, our goal every year is to win the titles, said Baker coach Eric Johnson during a recent practice as he kept an eye on more than 100 BHS track athletes.

Do I think we can do it again realistically? he asked. Yes.

Johnson said a new roadblock in the title scheme this year is the addition of La Grande from the Class 4A Intermountain Conference. The Bulldogs arent that unfamiliar with the Tigers, though. La Grande and Baker have competed against each other multiple times over the years at many invitational meets.

La Grande will be the new kid on the block, Johnson said. I think they will make a big difference come district time. It will be interesting to see how they mix it up.

Johnson said a plus for the Bulldogs this season is the addition of several athletes who have not participated in track before, but who have had success in other sports at BHS.

Its kind of exciting, Johnson said. Look at all of our returning scorers. And we have some stud athletes, particularly in the girls field. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

Baker returns 11 girls and eight boys who placed in the top six of their events at last years district meets.

Included in that group is senior Tiffany Taylor, the district champion in the shot and discus, and Tori Black, district champ in the girls pole vault.

The other returning girls who placed at district are sprinters Shannon Barker, Aubri Siex and Michelle Evans, mid- and long distance runners Whittney Harris, Sara Borbon, Danielle Martin, Andrea Streeter and Tessa Vergari, hurdler Josey Hilton, and thrower Amy Cloudt.

Taylor placed 10th in the shot and 12th in the discus at the Class 3A state meet at Eugene.

Harris set a new school record while placing 13th in the 3,000 at state. Barker was 13th in the 400, and Borbon 16th in the 800.

The top returning performer for the boys is Casey Bond. He placed second in the 800 a year ago at district, and 16th at the state meet.

The other returning boys district placers are sprinters Jason Jacobs, Clay DeMastus and Adam McCalden, distance runners Matt Hensley, Craig Berryman and Dillon Moore, and pole vaulter Nick Strommer.

Johnson said this years girls teams strength is in its runners, from the 200 on up to the 3,000. The boys, he said, appear strongest in the hurdles and jumping events.

All of our distance runners have matured a lot this year, Johnson said.

Theyre a lot farther along at this point this season.

Baker assistant coach Suzy Cole, who coached many of the distance runners in her role as BHS cross country coach last fall, agreed.

Johnson said the biggest surprises so far this spring have been the weather and the Bulldogs enthusiasm.

The weather has been great, he said. And Im amazed at the overall energy of the 100-plus kids we have out right now. Its just a pleasant situation.

Baker will see its first meet action of the season Friday at the Hermiston Time Trials. Competition gets under way at 1 p.m. at Hermiston High School.