North Summit s Jace Hirzel is expected to be a contender for the Braves in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. Photo by Christopher Reeves/Park Record
North Summit s Jace Hirzel is expected to be a contender for the Braves in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. Photo by Christopher Reeves/Park Record

Any teams that finished first and second at state are going to enter the following season with targets on their backs. But for Dave Peck, North Summit head track and field coach, there's nowhere else he'd want the Braves to be. With a record number of athletes and a championship mentality, North Summit is poised to defend its throne.

"It looks like people have decided track is 'it' at North Summit," Peck said. "I think that people want to be a part of a championship team."

Last season, the girls' team earned Peck his seventh overall 2A championship trophy and the fifth consecutive title for the Lady Braves -- all with only one gold-medal event. The boys' team was second only to powerhouse Richfield, an opponent they won't be facing at state now that that school has moved to the 3A classification.

"(We're) going to be a huge target," Peck said. "I think these other teams want to do their best to knock us off. It's anybody's game." Within the region, Peck anticipates Manti and Gunnison to be North Summit's strongest competitors.

The team's recent success has snowballed into something resembling a dynasty. With a record number of athletes at tryouts -- Peck estimates more than 100 kids this year -- the Braves have their sights locked in on a pair of championship trophies.

"We've lost some strong seniors from last year but we're picking up some freshman," he said. "It is going to be a challenge to figure out where to put these individuals. What we want to try and do -- especially with the younger team members -- is to find a spot where they might be able to excel. That's our biggest challenge."

Coming off a cross country state championship last fall, Peck expects the girls from that team to make a strong showing again this spring. They'll need to -- to fill an 18-point deficit left by the departure of the senior throwers on last year's track and field team who won first- and second place medals at state.

"We don't have any throwers (this year) that scored points last year," he said. "And the hurdlers are also quite young. We're a young team with a lot of new faces this year."

That doesn't mean the team is without talent. Peck listed several returning sprinters and mid-distance runners who he will be relying on for immediate impact. On the boys' side, Peck is without his best sprinter and hurdler but expects a solid group of seniors and a handful of juniors to fill the gaps.

"We're looking forward to them doing real well," he said. "Probably our strong suit for the boys also will be in the distance events."

With a young group of athletes, Peck is still searching for his stars, but he'll have some familial ties to aid his championship quest. Madi and Josh Birk, the children of All American BYU distance runner Nicole Wardrop, are expected to contribute in the 400 and 800 meters and sprints, respectively. Their older sister Erica also ran at North Summit and set state records at 800, 1600 and 3200 meters, along with the medley relay. It goes without saying that the elder Birk's contributions before her graduation in 2012 were a major factor in Peck's first four championships.

In preparation for the Matt Burr Invitational today at North Sevier, the Braves held an inter-squad meet last week to sort through their talent. Out of the blocks, North Summit must be prepared to defend its legacy. Last year, both the boys and girls won the team titles at the Matt Burr Invitational.

"We saw some boys put in some goods times in the distance and sprints," he said. "That will help us determine who we can invite to these invitationals. We're going to have to take a look at those who have done well in practice to see who are going to be our leaders and the strong people on our team."

Peck is quick to point out that his athletes know what is at stake this season. It's a mentality the coaching staff has worked hard to foster and emphasize.

"These athletes realize they need to put the effort into maintaining this level of excellence," Peck said. "For us as coaches, it is important for us to help them understand that we have a tradition here and that tradition is doing quite well."