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Track races back to Chemeketa

Ashley Norton, Hanna Caldwell, Noemi Gonzalez and Sara Tunstill warming up for practice. Photo by Colton Duda

Led by Coach Elisabeth Saxe, women’s distance track has returned to Chemeketa this spring for the first time since the 2002–03 season.

Saxe, formerly of South Salem High School, has 30 years of experience coaching cross country and track.

“It’s definitely a cool opportunity,” said Sara Tunstill, a member of the newly-reinstated team. Tunstill is returning to Chemeketa after getting her degree in Kinesiology from Oregon State. “This is my first year running track. I was a long-distance marathon [and] ultra-marathon runner, so [I’m] getting used to shorter speeds.”

Tunstill is one of just five runners on the team so far, but the lack of runners does not discourage Saxe. The small group makes them closer, she said. 

“We are a very small [team], but they love what they’re doing. They feel great about their accomplishments. I’ve had bigger teams, and you get a wide variety of people that [are] really committed versus not that committed. I feel like the girls are very committed to what they’re doing and doing well. I really think they love having teammates, and so, as more teammates come on, it’s increasing productivity,” Saxe said.

Saxe has returned to coaching after several years of retirement. “I honestly thought I was done, [but] I just really love it. It’s not just about running and about track. I enjoy getting to know the girls, and figuring out the things that make them tick.” Saxe said.

“[She’s] the most experienced coach I’ve ever had,” said Noemi Gonzalez, a second-year dentistry student from Salem.

Saxe’s return to coaching hasn’t been without its challenges, most notably the lack of a track on Chemeketa’s campus. The team has to travel around Salem to practice. 

“We have been using Blanchet’s track, as well as Gervais High School, but there are also days where we can’t get on the track because we would interfere with what they’re doing, so we do a lot of stuff over at Stephens Middle School,” said Saxe. 

“I think it’d be way better [if] we had a track,” said Gonzalez.

Despite the challenges, Saxe has high hopes for the upcoming season. Her goal is to have somebody qualify for the conference meet, but mainly to spread awareness about the new program, she said. 

“Really, I think the one thing we have done well is the girls that we do have really love what they’re doing and are really passionate about it,” said Saxe. “I think getting experience, and then, as we get more experience, setting personal goals.”

If you are interested in running for Chemeketa, contact Coach Saxe in the Athletics department. For more information on the Women’s Track program, visit https://nwacstats.org/sports/track/index

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