They weren’t track nuts. Maybe that made it even tougher

Senior athletes at Troy High posed for a photo earlier this year. In the back row are (from left) baseball players Matthew Spencer, Reece Sanderson and Matt Groseclose; track athletes Fisher Gray, David Phillis, Sam Taff, Zachary Stoner, Rhett Sandquist, Tyler Heath, Tommy Baier and Brendan Noble; and baseball players Grayson Foster and John McShane. In the front row are track athletes Kelli Richmond and Jaycee Johnson; softball players Bailey Grove, Dara Loder, Niah Griffin, Abby Weller and Brenna Dunworth; and track athlete Katy Mottern.

They’d been quietly waiting for this season for two or three years, knowing the numbers would be in their favor and hoping that luck would be too.

Alas, 2020 was their unluckiest season of all.

So the eight seniors in the Troy High boys’ track program will now go their separate ways, wondering when such a small school (enrollment: about 135) will again see such a sizable and capable senior class.

They weren’t all track nuts. But their commitment to the sport had impressed longtime Troy track coach Ed Coulter, whose roster did include one senior who’ll compete at the college level next year, distance runner David Phillis.

“I was really looking forward to this year,” Phillis said by phone last week, “because in the past we’ve always had something go a little bit wrong. At least I have — something a little bit wrong every single track season.

“So it’s kind of funny this season ended up like that too.”

He was alluding, of course, to the cancellation of the spring sports season in Idaho and elsewhere because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trojans were a good bet for a top-4 trophy in the boys’ 1A class of the Idaho state meet this month. And although their past travails — a couple of personnel issues last year, for example — had rendered them dark horses in 2020, they didn’t rule out the possibility of the school’s second state team track championship ever — and first in 86 years, in either gender.

“Our goal was to place at State,” said senior Zachary Stoner, an all-Whitepine League basketball player who last year won a district hurdles title in track. “But really I thought it was possible we could get the state title.”

If they’d done that, it would have been a much different accomplishment for Troy than in 1934, when a one-man team — Donald Johnson, later a javelin-thrower for the University of Idaho — single-handedly outscored every other school at State, long before the field was split into enrollment classes.

No, this would have required a communal effort, led by seniors like Phillis, Stoner, sprinters Fisher Gray and Sam Taff and thrower Rhett Sandquist, with contributions from fellow seniors Tyler Heath, Brendan Noble and Tommy Baier.

Gray and Taff, boasting the fourth- and fifth-best returning 400-meter times in the Idaho 1A ranks, would have formed the nucleus of a strong relay crew. The Trojans, in fact, might have posed a threat to the oldest 1A boys’ state-meet record in the book, a 1,600 relay time of 3 minutes, 29.36 seconds, by Carey in 1996. They were almost a cinch to snap the school record of 3:31.97, set three years ago with the help of Taff and Phillis.

Another cog in the relays would have been the versatile Sandquist, the quarterback of the Troy football team last fall. One of his goals for track season was to hone his starts and improve his 100-meter time, hoping it would help draw attention from football recruiters.

“What makes this group stand out is their depth,” Coulter said. “Usually when a 1A team does well at State, it’s behind one superstar. ... I would feel horrible for a superstar who missed their senior season, but I think this is worse. For a superstar, this wouldn’t be their last go at track. I’d have loved for these guys to have the chance to show how hard work pays off and to go out on top.”

Failing that, it would have been nice to gather as a group and talk about their shared disappointment. But, of course, the virus-prompted state restrictions apply to all team gatherings.

“There’s been no closure,” Coulter said.

Also disappointed is the Troy girls’ team, which claimed a district team title in 2019 and returned seniors Kelli Richmond, Jaycee Johnson and Katy Mottern this year.

Coulter, an electrical engineer and former walk-on sprinter at the University of Idaho (“I think they kept me around because I fixed the coach’s computer when it broke”), has headed the Trojans for 14 years, drawing upon the school’s off-and-on tradition in distance running and adding sizzle to the sprints.

His co-head coach is Jessica Renfrow, nee Case, who won a state girls’ 100-meter title for Coulter a dozen years ago and played a key role in his five consecutive state girls’ 400 relay crowns.

“It seems like, ever since I’ve been here,” Stoner said, “there have been more kids in track than any other sport. That might be because it’s coed.”

Just imagine what the Trojans will do when they actually have an all-weather track. They’ve been raising money and doing preliminary work toward that end — Phillis, who’s interested in graphic design, created a fund-raising poster — and the project is slated for completion next summer.

Coulter, who lives and works in Moscow, doesn’t get much opportunity to recruit the Troy High hallways for track talent. He has to be more creative than that.

“Really, it’s about providing an environment where athletes come out, they have fun, they challenge themselves and get better,” he said. “And they recruit for us.”

In that sense, having a roster with eight senior boys was a triumph in itself. It included track specialists like Phillis, who recently signed with the Lewis-Clark State track and cross country program. But it also included multi-sport athletes who, as far as Phillis can see, look forward to track season and savor the way it combines the team dynamics of football and basketball with something a bit more personal.

Phillis will experience that again on the college level. For those other guys, this had been their final chance.

Dale Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

Recommended for you