By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Back on the track after a year’s layoff, Gary Randolph is among California’s top junior college shot put and discus throwers.

Switching to the steeplechase from middle distances, Santa Rosa Junior College teammate Atalie Halpin also has a shot at the state championships.

Healthy again, Alex Wolf-Root is second statewide among men in both the 5,000 meter and the 10,000 meter events.

These athletes lead a large group of SRJC competitors qualifying for the California Community College Athletic Association NorCal Trials set for Saturday in Sacramento. The regional finals follow a week later. A handful could reach the state championships.

“Every single week I’ve improved. Our team’s doing great,” said Randolph, from Healdsburg hHigh.

Putting faith in her coaches’ decision to run the steeplechase, Halpin has been a natural at the 3,000 meter distance featuring hurdles and a water hazard.

“It’s really fun and exciting,” said the former Rincon Valley Christian soccer standout and three-sport athlete. “I wasn’t expecting to get this far. I hope to keep it going.”

Bringing out the best in each athlete has been the aim for Santa Rosa’s track and field coaching staff led by former Maria Carrillo track great David Wellman.

Also a top Chico State runner, Wellman took over for the cross country season and was named full-time coach this spring.

“We’re building up the program, focusing on developing the individual. We’re there for them,” Wellman said.

With an emphasis on training athletes to reach personal goals over scoring team points at meets, Santa Rosa’s coaches helped guide 20 men and women to qualifying marks for the NorCal trials. With more Bear Cubs reaching regionals compared with last season, Santa Rosa coaches expect a similar increase in state meet participants.

“We’ve had some surprises and people achieving what they expected. The athletes are just putting up better and better results each week,” Wellman said.

Along the way Randolph won the Big 8 Conference shot put title and finished second in discus. Wolf-Root was runner-up in the conference 10,000 meters.

Halpin also took home a second in the steeplechase.

Each of the three has enjoyed success while tapping a newfound passion for track and field.

An All-Empire pick at Healdsburg, Randolph did not play football or compete in track and field as a college freshman. Sonoma State doesn’t field teams in those sports.

Randolph then transferred to Santa Rosa and set out to get back in shape. Soon he was having fun again on the track.

“I like fell in love with it all over again,” Randolph said. “I feel like I haven’t come close to what I can do.”

Powerful yet raw, Randolph is honing his footwork and releases. With greater consistency come ever better results.

Speed and sure feet helped Halpin make All-Empire in prep soccer. She also played basketball and softball at Rincon Valley Christian, but the school did not compete in track and field.

Taking up distance running at Santa Rosa as a freshman Halpin ran well at 800 meters and 1,500 meters. Yet her coaches spotted even greater potential in the steeplechase.

“I like the distance. You also need adrenaline for jumping over the barriers,”

Halpin said. “I’ve just worked at putting it together.”

Santa Rosa’s highest ranked athlete is better than ever on the oval. An Empire great at Maria Carrillo, Wolf-Root ran at UC Davis before injuries set him back.

Coming back stronger than ever, Wolf-Root sewed up spots in NorCals without having to run in the conference meet. Rested and ready, he should contend for state titles in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.

Some of Santa Rosa’s success this season can be attributed to a larger team.

More athletes are out pushing one another to faster times and better marks.

Wellman and his staff already are working on bringing in a new class of the Empire’s prep best.