Ada’s track program made a giant leap last spring in Mart Leming’s first season as head coach, and Leming and his young boys and girls squads will try to take another small step forward in Saturday’s Class 5A regional meet in Ardmore.

Leming, who took over a program that had hit rock bottom last spring and took a small but select group of athletes to the 2005 state meet, said Tuesday this year’s Cougar delegation — although short on experience once again — is long on potential.

“(Sophomores) Michael Roberts and Steffan Jones are the only two on this year’s team who competed at the regional meet last year, but I think we have a decent chance to get more kids into the state tournament than we did last year,” Leming said. “All three relays have a chance to qualify, and (sophomore) Chaz (Daniels) and Michael should both qualify in their individual events (Daniels in the 100 and 200 meters and Roberts in the 400). (Senior) Alex Lanis has a good chance to qualify in the 800, and Lanis or Matt Beasley could make it in the 1,600, but I don’t think both of them will get in.”

On the girls’ side, Leming has one of the most dynamic young runners in the state in freshman Jourdan Clark, who is already the leader of the “five or six” Ada freshman girls who will attempt to qualify Saturday for their first state meet.

Clark, ranked No. 1 in the state in both the 100 and 300-meter hurdles, is also a threat to qualify in the 100-meter dash. Leming said Clark has a unique opportunity Saturday if she runs her best.

“Jourdan’s going to have to run well, but her times are better than any hurdler in our class,” Leming noted. “She could also qualify in the 100 meters, but she’ll be the favorite in both hurdles.”

In addition to Clark, Leming said distance specialist Niku Bayatfar and long jumper Elizabeth Hamm are probably his best shots to qualify girls for the state meet (May 12-13 at Tulsa East Central High School), with Tori Banks also a threat to qualify in the shot and discus.

“Niku was running well during the middle part of the season, but she got sick, and she’s had a rough time coming back,” Leming said of Bayatfar. “She’s struggled recently, but looking at the rankings, she should definitely qualify if she runs her best race.

“Elizabeth will have to jump well over 16 feet (Hamm’s best so far this season is just over 15-10) to have a chance at the state meet, but just to qualify as a freshman would be great,” Leming added. “Tori really has a better chance in the shot than the discus. Four girls ranked in the top 10 (in the discus) are in our region.”

In addition to being among the elite in Class 5A this spring in their respective events, Daniels and Roberts are part of the Ada boys 400 and 1,600-meter relay teams that are both threats to win state titles next week.

The two speedy sophomores — who, despite their youth, have already established themselves among the area’s best all-around athletes — will join Steffan Jones and either Tyler Jones or Terrell Booker in the 400, and freshman Colton Richardson will join Roberts, Jones and Daniels on the 1,600-meter relay.

Leming said Jones, who is coming back from a groin injury he suffered last month, could be the key to Ada’s success in the 400-meter relay Saturday..

“Steffan ran (Tuesday) and looked good,” Leming said. Hopefully, he’s back. If he doesn’t run, we’re a longshot.

“We should probably win the mile (1,600-meter) relay, just looking at our region,” he added. “The best team other than us is from Ardmore. They have a good mile relay, but our best times are better than theirs. We’re ranked second and they’re ranked third (in 5A), but their best times don’t stack up with ours.”

In the 3,200-meter relay, Lanis and Chris Jay (two of the only seniors on the Ada squad) will be joined by Beasley and another sophomore, Kolby Howry, on a unit that has run well against teams in its own class all spring.

“We’ve placed (in the 3,200) at every 5A meet we’ve gone to,” Leming said. “We were second at our conference meet and at the McAlester meet. If they run what they’re capable of running, we’ll have a good chance to qualify.”

Leming said his other senior, Chris West, appears ready for a big effort in the discus Saturday.

“At our practice meet (last week), Chris threw the discus the best he’s thrown it all year,” Leming said. “If he throws it like that Saturday, he’ll have a chance to get in.”

Overall, the 2006 track season has been one long rollercoaster ride for Leming, who has struggled with injuries and ineligibility from key performers. Despite having several question marks heading into Saturday’s meet, he said he believes the program is heading in the right direction.

“I think we’ve moved forward somewhat,” he noted. “We have a lot of young kids, and they have to understand the learning curve.

“Competing at the high school level is definitely different from junior high, and we’ve had some health issues and some minor injuries that have hurt us at times this year,” he added. “But we’ve also got a lot of talent on this team. Hopefully, we’ll take care of business Saturday.”

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