Mission-Ronan track team blends experience, new blood
RONAN — “Exciting” is the word coach Crystal Pitts used to describe the combined Mission-Ronan high school track and field team.
Pitts has been coaching for 34 years, first basketball and then track. She began coaching track so she could coach her own boys.
“I didn’t have girls, so these are my girls,” Pitts said, her gesture circling the track.
Students competed in their second track meet of the year on Saturday in Bigfork. Pitts said the boys are performing, and the girls are very young, but it’s early in the season.
She emphasizes individual responsibility in the track program.
“The kids need to get themselves to their events,” Pitts explained.
The students also need to do their workouts without prompting and check in daily with the coach, especially the freshmen.
With more than 50 kids out for track, Pitts appreciates her assistant coaches. Noelle Decker coaches the distance runners; Cameron Barber teaches the jumpers; Rod Harris schools the throwers; and Jim Benn coaches the pole-vaulters.
Harris said both boys and girls throw the javelin, the shot put and the discus.
“We’ve got some experience,” Harris said. “Aspen Jore, a sophomore, went to state last year.”
Jore has a 31-foot shot put and throws the javelin 107 feet. Her male teammate, Lucas Gerhardt, tossed the javelin 174 feet and threw the shot 46 feet.
Mission senior Nikko Alexander missed state javelin by 6 inches last year. This year, he has pitched the javelin 145 feet and thrown the shot 38 feet and may go well into the 40s, according to Harris.
Further up the track, Stephanie Lewandowski eyed the hurdles and then began her conquest, running towards the first jump.
A St. Ignatius senior, Lewandowski competes in hurdles, the 4 x 100 relay, high jump, long jump, triple jump and sometimes the 300-yard dash.
“I’m a hurdler at heart,” Lewandowski said.
She’s been hurdling since sixth grade, and says it’s all about rhythm and balance, as well as flexibility.
Lewandowski is used to the coop team, since that’s all she’s ever known.
“We all get along,” she said. “It’s all about the competition and the drive to succeed.”
Paden Alexander, a Mission senior, agreed.
“I like coming up here to Ronan. There are more kids to compete with, and I like the track,” Paden said. “I just like to run.”
His main competitors are Madison Bolton, Florence, and Kyle Olson, Rocky Boy.
A cross-country star, Paden runs mainly the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and the 4 x 400 relay. He’s heading to college at the University of Great Falls.
Paden, Robby Hocker and Danny Romero, both Ronan seniors, are the team leaders for Decker’s distance runners.
This is Hocker’s first year in track, and he loves the blended team and the long relay.
“I love that communal effort,” Hocker said. “You put in that one hard lap.”
He also runs the 400 and 800-yard dashes.
Another standout is Ronan senior Jaden Bell. Bell competes in the high jump, long jump and triple jump, his favorite.
Although he also plays football and basketball, track is his best sport.
Bell hopes to have a better state tournament this year. Last year’s state tournament was in Bozeman; it was cold, and the long jump was held in a blizzard.
Decker said the track team lost members to graduation, but lots of freshman girls are out for track. She’s had several cross-country girls have crossed over to track, and they’ve taken the frosh under their wing.
The Ronan-Mission team moved into a busy week with a meet at Glacier High School on April 16 and Frenchtown’s meet held at Dornblaser Field in Missoula on April 20.