T he Del Norte boys and girls track and field teams have a brand new head coach this season as former girls basketball and boys tennis coach Jeff Cook takes over the reigns of the track program from former coach Jason Ziegler.

Cook said he has helped out as a volunteer at home track meets in the past, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience with the sport. Luckily longtime assistant coaches Samuel Escobar, Dave Boker and Tom Cochran are able to add a lot of track and field coaching experience to the staff.

“The three (assistant) coaches that I have, have about 60 years of combined experience,” Cook said. “So they are training me.”

Although still fairly new to the sport, Cook said Del Norte seems to have a lot of good athletes on the team this year.

“We have a good group of kids,” Cook said. “It seems like we have a good core of athletes out here. I think our goal for the year is to take more athletes to Berkeley. Mainly right now we are just telling the kids that they have to stay disciplined, and we are trying to make it fun. As far as how competitive we are going to be — I have no idea.”

Cook said this years team has a total of 68 athletes as of practice on Wednesday, including 48 boys and 20 girls.

“We have a good showing of kids this year with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but we still have a lot of our juniors and seniors back too. It is a big group of people this year,” said junior Bryce Howard. “These first meets will be a good starting point to see where kids are at. McKinleyville is only going to be a relay meet, but then we will have a more normal meet in Brookings on Tuesday. We will just see how everyone is doing and then go from there.”

The Warriors are scheduled to kick off their season today at the McKinleyville Panthers Relays. Although the Del Norte track program has already been practicing for quite a while, the weather so far this spring has made early season preparation difficult.

“We actually started practice on January 28, but we haven’t been able to be out here that much because of the weather,” Cook said. “We were splitting the gyms and the hallways with the baseball and softball teams. So this week is our first full week of practice, and it is the week before our first meet. We are learning the events because we have a lot of freshmen, and just trying to catch up on our conditioning, because we haven’t been able to condition enough.”

Howard said the rough weather will likely impact the newcomers on the team the most, but he believes they will be able to adjust as the season goes along.

“The returning kids should be back on their feet as usual, but I’m expecting some of the new kids to start up pretty slow,” Howard said. “We haven’t been doing much conditioning yet, but once we get into the season I think they will start to realize that they need to start working more on their own in order to get better.”

Although Warrior coaches and players all said they will have a much better idea about how Del Norte stacks up against the rest of the league after the first few meets, Howard said he is hopeful that the boys will be in contention to win almost all of their meets this year.

“We are going to try to get in the top two in all of our meets,” Howard said.

The Del Norte boys team returns four Humboldt-Del Norte League champions from 2018 in Ethan Price (high jump and triple jump), Howard (pole vault), Vova Sherman (200 meters) and Luke King (shot put).

The Del Norte boys will likely be particularly strong in the throwing events as they bring back two of the top three returning placers from the HDN in both shot put and discus. The Warriors have had a strong group of throwers for several years running.

“It is really good because it keeps you competitive,” senior Sam Martinez said of Del Norte’s group of throwers. “You can’t get lazy because you know that if you slip up a little bit they will beat you. It is just like a friendly competition amongst all of us.”

The Del Norte girls team is less than half the size of the boys this year, but the Warriors are excited to see what they can accomplish.

“There are a lot fewer girls than boys, but so far we are all pretty positive,” said junior Claire Taylor. “We are all friends, we all get along, and we all encourage each other. I think we will do pretty well this year because we have some really good female athletes.”

The Warrior girls bring back the team’s only league champion from last year in Katherine Martinez, who won a white star last year in the pole vault before advancing all the way to the NCS Meet of Champions in Berkeley.

No matter how the season turns out, Taylor said she expects the Warriors to have a good time building up their camaraderie throughout the year.

“I definitely look forward to all the meets, because it is just fun,” she said. “We all get along, we are all laughing and joking on the ride down, and on the way home all you hear is kids snoring because we are all tired from running. It is always fun.”

As a senior, Sam Martinez said building relationships is also what he is most looking forward to.

“It’s my last season, so I’m just looking forward to seeing everyone and going on all the trips,” he said. “Those are the really fun parts.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .