Los Gatos High School Pole Vaulter Chris Little recently cleared 14 feet in the Boys Pole Vault.
Los Gatos High School Pole Vaulter Chris Little recently cleared 14 feet in the Boys Pole Vault.

In his 22-year-career as head coach of the Los Gatos track team, Willie Harmatz built the program into a perennial Central Coast Section power, winning two girls team championships and guiding several athletes to individual CCS titles.

Now in their second year coaching the boys and girls programs, Thomas Newman and Monica Townsend are keeping the Wildcat tradition of excellence alive.

Nik Kay is again excelling after placing second in the discus throw at last year's state meet. Kay, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound senior, has recovered from a bout with strep throat that made him lose 15 pounds. He has the top discus mark in the state this year with a throw of 189 feet, 7 inches and is ranked second in the CCS with a shot put of 53-7 1/2.

``Nik is able to adapt well under pressure situations. That combined with his superior genetics give him unlimited potential,'' said Wildcats throw coach Ron McKee, one of four top assistants working with the team. ``I look at Nik as an Olympic candidate in 2008.''

The Wildcats have a pair of quality 800 runners in Chad Blanchard and Nathan Young. Blanchard's time of 1:58.24 is the ninth best in the CCS. Coach Thomas Newman, who placed sixth in the state 800 in 1996, is working closely with them.

Junior Chris Little, a transfer from Del Mar High in San Jose, is an up-and-coming pole vaulter. He cleared a personal best 14 feet at the Arcadia meet April 12 and tied for second at the Hampton Phillips meet Saturday at 13-6.

``Our vault coach, Brandon Vance, has been helping me a lot with my technique and mental approach, and it's made a big difference,'' Little said.

Vance has also been working with junior Sally Stanton, who set a school record in the pole vault by clearing 11 feet to place third at last year's CCS meet. Stanton, a former gymnast, went on to jump at the state meet.

``Competing in front of all those people was exciting,'' said Stanton, who also has the sixth best time in the section in the 300 hurdles and competes on the 1,600 and 400 relay teams. ``I hope to get back there and clear 12 feet this year.''

High jumper Michelle Johnson is tied for third in the section with a jump of 5-5.

Senior 800-meter runner Carolyn Penner, who will run at Stanford next year, returns after taking third at the section meet last year. Penner was tutored in the sport by teammate Ashley Caldwell, now a freshman competing at UCLA.

Penner, who has competed on two CCS champion 1,600 teams, has become a team leader, Townsend said.

Townsend hopes that junior Ali Dodson (sixth at the CCS meet in the 200 last year and part of the champion 1,600 team) can return strong from injuries this year.

The Wildcats, who won a girls team CCS title last season and hope to contend again this year, have a bright future with the addition of freshman Christine Jones, a natural talent in the 800-meter race. Jones, a 2002 Junior Olympic finalist in the 800 last summer, is a 5-foot-2, 80-pound 14-year-old with an iron will. Her time of 2:17.01 ranks fourth in the CCS this year.

Jones joins Penner, Stanton and Caroline Stege on the 1,600 team, which has the fifth best mark in CCS at 4:06.81.

``Christine has the speed and endurance to become an outstanding runner,'' Townsend said. ``She has quite a career ahead of her.''

Contact Dennis Knight at dknight@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5899.