By Tom Price Jr.

School busses lined the south end of the Mineral King Bowl on Saturday morning while hundreds of track and field athletes from schools up and down the Valley competed in the Pioneer Invitational and hundreds more looked on from the stands.

Exeter, the smallest team in the competition loaded mainly with Yosemite division schools, stepped off their bus and into the crowded arena, a sensation that they could get at home next year when the proposed all-weather track at Monarch Stadium will be completed.

According to Exeter track coach Darren Lasky Exeter is about to take a leap to another level of competition.

"It's going to be real exciting," Lasky said about having the stadiums dirt oval replaced with an impermeable eight- or nine-lane track. "I am expecting big things to happen next year."

Benefits from the new surface, which was made possible by a $312,000 donation by the Exeter Community Health Fund, range from a reduced number of injuries to the ability to host invitationals and more duals.

"It is going to be nice once we get it in," sprinter Cory Griffin said. "There will be less impact and less injuries and our times will decrease overall."

The Monarchs will finish this season practicing on the bald track while the Exeter Union High School District decides on a construction timetable. The track is expected to be completed by the beginning of the next school year.

"It's going to be weird walking into the stadium and not seeing the dirt track," Exeter relay runner Brittney Walker. "I can't wait."

Lasky doesn't want to overlook what is happening this year he knows the leap to track respectability begins with the steps taken on the field and Nate Cary literally vaulted the highest with a 12-foot-3-inch pole vault at the Pioneer Invitational for a first place finish. He also finished second in the high jump raising the bar to 5 feet 10 inches. Adam Hightower had a season best time of 43.5 seconds in the 300 meter hurdles and sophomore Shea Cosart had a three second improvement in her 400 meter time with a 66.3 second performance. Luis Ortiz also ran a personal best 12.5 seconds in the 100-meter dash. The Pioneer Invitational is an individual competition only.

"Everybody has improved everyday and ever week," Lasky said. "And I think we did really well Saturday."

The final questions surrounding the new track at Monarch Stadium might be answered tonight at the Exeter Union High School District meeting. Board members are expected to select which bid to accept and whether or not the track will have eight or nine lanes. Details from the board meeting will be available in the March 24 issue of The Exeter Sun.

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