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ALL-AMERICAN: Eastern Oregon's Leah Merrell is a nine-time All-American in indoor and outdoor track and field going into the 2002 indoor season. (The Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).
ALL-AMERICAN: Eastern Oregon's Leah Merrell is a nine-time All-American in indoor and outdoor track and field going into the 2002 indoor season. (The Observer file photo/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

The yellow lights of Ackerman Gym again are illuminating the training ground for Eastern Oregons indoor track and field teams.

The Mountaineers start the track season today and Saturday with competitions in Cheney, Wash.

The leading contender to qualify for the NAIA and NCAA Division III national meets is senior 20-pound weight thrower Leah Merrell, who is battling a sprained ankle and foot injuries.

Thats nothing new for Merrell, who has had a foot operation in the past year and has competed injured in the past.

I dont know if shed know how to compete if she wasnt banged up, Eastern Oregon coach John Spatz said.

Merrell was second in the hammer throw at both the 2000 and 2001 NAIA indoor national meets. At the Division III meets, she was fourth in 2000 and sixth in 2001. Shes a nine-time All-American in both indoor and outdoor track and field.

She could do a two-step (throw) and qualify, Spatz said.

The NAIA qualifying mark is 47 feet; Merrells throw at the NCAA Division III meet last year was 54-3.

The rest of the teams are a mixture of new athletes and veterans. Among the veterans are multievent competitors Matt Young and Brian Hartley, who compete in the indoor pentathlon today. Pole vaulter Paul Lapke will also do the pentathlon.

Newcomers include a few from Northeast Oregon. Shawn Trimble, a former state champion pole vaulter at Elgin High School, is back to competition after taking a year off; his best mark is 15 feet, 6 inches, set in 2000 at Clackamas Community College.

Tyson Parks, formerly Railey, was a standout sprinter for Enterprise High School and should bolster Easterns sprinting and relay corps.

How theyll do remains to be seen, especially on the 55-meter tracks used for indoor meets.

We kind of need to go to a meet to see where were at, Spatz said.


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