There are some big changes around the Piedmont High School track and field program. Fortunately, there are in-house replacements ready to take the reins.
The big offseason news was the school severing ties with longtime coach Jeanine Holmlund, who had quite a run of success with the Highlanders over the past 10 years. Replacing her as head coach is assistant Pouyan Assadi.
It’s similar with the members of the team. Gone are Parker Terrill, Ellie Black, Cooper Downing, Jack Stein and Luke Alban. Those seniors all competed at the California Interscholastic Federation championships last May.
But there are a bunch of talented athletes who hope to achieve similar honors. Parker Long is now a senior, the only remaining member of the 1,600-meter relay team that included Downing, Stein and Alban and made the state meet. Long is strong in six events, with the speed to run the 200, 400 and 800, the endurance to run the 1,600 and 3,200, and the technical ability to run the 300 hurdles.
“Of the current athletes, he’s the only one to have made the state meet in both track and cross country,” Assadi said. “That’s something special, someone who has that experience at the state level. Parker is someone that can make any situation fun. He looks at the competition and he thinks, ‘I’m going to go after this, but also I’m going to have a good time going after it.’ He doesn’t get stressed. It really allows him to stay relaxed.”
Long has bests of 52.09 seconds in the 400, 4:29 in the 1,600 and 9:45.89 in the 3,200.
Senior Christian Taylor will be the middle-distance standout on the team. He has a best of 1:58.93 in the 800 and 4:23.44 in the 1,600.
“He’s absolutely relentless in his training,” Assadi said. “I see him in the neighborhood, I see him on the track, I see him in the weight room. He wants to be great. The kids follow him because they know he’s going to work hard and makes them want to work hard.”
Senior Matthew Riordan is the top sprinter on the boys team. He anchored Piedmont’s 400 relay team that made NCS last season. More impressively, he took up the 300 hurdles last year on the Monday before the West Alameda County Conference championships and finished second at the meet.
“He trained hard enough to become the fastest sprinter on the team last year,” Assadi said. As a coach, my heart is beating during the relay. I know when the third runner gets the baton, I know Matthew is going to get it and be fine.
“We know he has another level of body control. Combine that with his ability to be coached, to be focused, and his speed, and he’s a top-tier hurdler. He’s just good at too many events.”
Senior Charles White wants to be a decathlete, giving Piedmont another versatile athlete who can score in many events.
“He wants to try a little bit of everything,” Assadi said. “He’s always working hard whether you watch him or not. He’s one of the kindest people on the team.”
Long, Taylor, Riordan and White will serve as captains of the boys team.
Junior Xander Schulte-Sasse returns, looking to improve in the distances. His best in the 1,600 is 4:31.50 and in the 3,200 is 9:40.02.
“That 9:40 is the fastest time by a junior in the last 10 years (at Piedmont),” Assadi said. “He has ascended as the heir to the long distance/cross country leader. If you’re just walking around Piedmont, the best part is Xander is always running around the neighborhood.”
Junior Spencer Sorensen-Wald is the next top-level pole vaulter for the Highlanders. Terrill set a school-record of 16 feet, 1 inch last year. Is that in Sorensen-Wald’s sights?
“Spencer broke the school freshman record in the pole vault two years ago,” Assadi said. “He may not break Parker’s record from last year, but he’s certainly going to make a run at it. He also had a growth spurt.”
Sorensen-Wald will also compete in hurdles and may also have a future in the decathlon.
“He has an opportunity to be one of the highest point-scorers on the team,” Assadi said.
Sophomore Sam Shelby is a three-sport athlete who also plays football and soccer. He’ll be a sprinter and could run on both relay teams.
“He’s built more like a senior or a college athlete than a sophomore,” Assadi said. “He’s going to be one of the key components as we rebuild the (400 relay). He has that top end sprint speed that only a few guys have. Both the explosiveness and the endurance.”
On the girls side, senior Brie Sotelo will complete the rare double of the 100 hurdles and the shot put.
“She has the third-best shot put in the history of Piedmont and the third-best 100 meter hurdle time in the history of Piedmont as well,” Assadi said. “She was the leading scorer across all girls last year.”
This year, Sotelo is adding the triple jump and pole vault, looking to pad those point totals. She will also be available for the 400 relay.
Junior Breah Bell is the classic sprinter-jumper, running the 100 and 200 and also competing in the long and triple jumps. Her best in the 100 of 12.91 is within sight of the school-record of 12.67.
“We don’t want to put any pressure on her or the team, but Breah has a chance to be one of the best girl sprinters in the history of this high school,” Assadi said. “She is also the star of the musical, she’s also a great student, she’s also on the cheerleader team. She’s one of those individuals that is going to go out and accomplish a lot.”
Junior Jamie Schwarz is strong in the middle-distances and also runs a leg on the 1,600 relay.
“She is willing to mentor and be friends with everyone,” Assadi said. “The girls team in general is very young and the distance team is particularly young. Under her leadership, they’re not just in the competition but they’re willing to fight to the end.”
Those three will be the captains.
Freshman Skylar Best might be a budding superstar. She made the CIF championships as an individual during cross country season and is looking to become a top 1,600-3,200 runner during track.
“She’s part of this infusion of young talent,” Assadi said. “And has an incredibly positive attitude and is one of the reasons why we think were building something special on the girls’ side.
“She has a certain physical talent and mentality that you don’t often see in a freshman. She has a level of maturity and a willingness to be mentored that you don’t see from freshman very often.”
Sophomore Ella Yasar broke Bell’s freshman school record in the 100 last year and also ran on the 400 relay team that made NCS. She is particularly interested in the hurdles, according to Assadi.
“She ran sprints and gained strength,” Assadi said. “We put in hurdles and she ran the third-fastest time in Piedmont history.”
Freshman Darcy McKee will also run sprints. Assadi called her a “great soccer player” and said he thinks her athleticism will translate to track.
Assadi said both teams should have strong seasons.
“When I think of the boys team, I’m thinking how well-rounded they are,” he said. “We have some opportunities to score in all 15 events, we have some elite talent and we have some depth. With the girls team, we don’t have that amazing history on the girls side in the sprints. We have the opportunity to write history day by day now.”