The Casa Grande High School track team left the Sonoma County League with a championship and would like nothing better than to enter the North Bay League with matching pennants.

Casa swept to both the boys and girls SCL titles last season, and Gaucho coach Jamie Pugh is convinced his team has a chance to make an immediate impression on the NBL

"I'm excited about the new league," Pugh says. He is beginning his third season as Casa Grande head coach and sixth working with the Gaucho track team. "I like being in the NBL. I like seeing the kids challenged week in, week out."

The Casa Grande girls especially expect to be able to compete with Montgomery, Santa Rosa, Maria Carrillo and other NBL powers. The Casa girls are young, but very talented and deep from sprints to distances.

The Lady Gauchos should be able to match speed with anyone, with three-quarters of last season's school record-setting 4x100 relay teams returning and a host of impressive newcomers. Freshmen Destiny Williams and Saskia Van Ommeren-Egberts are poised to make a dramatic impact on the Casa Grande sprint crew, joining a talented unit that includes Robin Payne, Kayla Ryan, Courtney Accurso, Becca Benjamin, Eleana Moon, Michele Chavez and Hannah Barlow.

Freshmen Williams in the 400 and Moon in the 800 will lead the middle distance runners. Pugh says Williams' potential is pretty much unlimited. "She is still learning," he says. "At this point, I don't know what her top end might be."

Ashley Moffet is one of the best, if not the best, distance runners in the Redwood Empire, and a legitimate state meet contender. Van Ommeren-Egberts is also strong in the distances.

Accurso leads the Casa hurdlers, and she, too, is among the best in the Redwood Empire.

Then there is Benjamin who can fit in anywhere from the 100 to 800. "She will score points for us," says Pugh.

Casa's talent pool isn't confined to the running events.

The Lady Gauchos have several quality jumpers led by Ella King, who will rank with the Redwood Empire' best in the high jump, triple jump and long jump.

Pugh credits the large number of talented young runners to the Kenilworth Junior High School track program.

"Kenilworth is sending us lots of kids who are willing to work hard," the high school coach says.

The one area where Casa Grande is a bit vulnerable, at lease early in the season, in the throwing events. "Our girls are improving," Pugh says. "We've got a number of young throwers who are trying to figure things out."

The Casa Grande boys have several exceptional athletes, but are not quite as talent deep as are the girls

"We're expecting big things from the boys," Pugh says. "We have some exceptional individuals, and we're stating to build depth."

Casa's leaders are seniors JaJuan Lawson and Brycen Porach. Between the two of them, they figure to score enough points to keep the Gauchos competitive in most meets.

Lawson, the football team quarterback, is one of the fastest athletes in the Redwood Empire. He will run in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and be a key member of both the 4x100 and 4X400 relay teams.

Poarch jumped his way to state last year, and is expected to extend his own school records in both the long and triple jumps this spring.

Casa Grande has a pair of strong middle distance runners in Joey Cauich and Andrew Langwell, who will not only contend individually in the 400 and 800-meter events, but will also provide a solid nucleus for a very good 4x400 relay team.

Caleb Lundquist has looked very good in the throwing events, and is expected to rank among the area's best in both the discus and the shot.

Cross country sensation Matt Salazar, a freshman, and sophomore Nick Rauch lead a young, but talented group of distance runners.

Helping Pugh work with the more than 100 young athletes on the Casa Grande track team are former head coach Carl Triola, who works with the hurdlers; Marcel Lawson, who is coaching the sprinters and former Casa Grande track and football standout Ray McClintock, who helps the throwers.

To watch what shapes up to be one of the best track teams in the Redwood Empire, Casa supporters are going to have to travel, because, once again, the Gauchos will have no home meets. The condition of the school's track does not allow Casa to host meets.