Local runners will be hitting the track soon, with their field-event counterparts throwing, jumping and vaulting their way to the podium.
At Urbana, Coach Mark Agerter will be the only returning coach, taking the reins for the Hillclimbers.
The Urbana squad will be large, sporting nearly 60 athletes. But more than 20 of those kids are freshmen.
“We’ve got a lot to find out about them in a hurry,” Agerter said.
Tristan Lynxwiler and Alec Freeman ran distance events for the Hillclimbers last season, with the now-senior Lynxwiler standing out. For the girls, senior Tabby McCall and sophomore Libby Arnett both ran distance, with McCall excelling and making a leap forward during cross country season this year.
Other returners include Mitch Moyer, Jack DeLong, Keith Gale, Nick Johnson, Ty Horsley, Jared Weller, Tristan Williams, Morgan Hamilton, Mikayla Porter, Kendra Arnett, Madisyn Horn and Natalie Seeberg.
Najhea Honore will make a key addition as a jumper and may run some middle distance.
“There’s a whole ton of youngsters that are working hard that could be pretty good,” Agerter said. “The girls are a lot younger than the guys. As young as we are, I guess I’m not coming in with some unrealistic expectation like we’re going to win the league. I think we can make some strides from where we were last year.”
With the abundance of bodies, Urbana can afford to have kids specialize in fewer events.
“Hopefully we can leave them healthier and score some more points – that’s what I’d like to see,” Agerter said. “We want to see kids working hard and improving. All the kids won’t be state qualifiers this year or maybe ever, but they can continuously compete against themselves.”
Urbana opens the season at Southeastern on March 29.
At Graham, Coach Rob Dickerson comes to the Falcons having previously been at Piqua for nine seasons.
“Me being new to the program, the kids have been really open-minded,” Dickerson said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked. I’ve set higher standards and they’ve risen to meet them so far.”
Gage Thomas, Kyle Jackson and Ian Arasa will provide leadership as seniors, with a talented mix of underclassmen giving the Falcons some scoring.
“I’m really blessed with sprinters. We’ll be real strong there,” Dickerson said. “We’re going to put together a heck of a relay team. We also have some good distance runners. Our field events – it’s too early to tell.”
The Falcons will use advanced data metrics to sort athletes into events, rather than simply allowing kids to pick their events. Dickerson hopes this will lead to higher scoring and lots of personal records.
“We’re always looking to improve that,” Dickerson said. “Every kid gives 100 percent every practice.”
On the girls’ side, John Tullis will lead the squad. Returning talent will include Katie Powell, Sophie Bowermeister, Roxy Kahn, Sarah Henry and Ashton Arnett. Graham also recruited the soccer and volleyball teams pretty heavily, hoping for more bodies.
“I think the track team is more athletic than we have been,” Tullis said. “I don’t know if we’re any faster, but we’ll be more athletic. We’re still in that phase where we’re sorting everyone out.”
Those cross-sport athletes will help in the future, but Tullis is cautiously optimistic about the short term.
“I think we’ll see constant improvement. They’re still learning how to run,” he said. “They’re very hard workers. They take the coaching well and they really get after it. I’d like to see us get a couple of girls to regionals, at least. The hope is that we can get to that level.”
The Falcons begin the season March 29 at Sidney.
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers will sport a mix of returners and newcomers. On the girls’ side, Leah Cole, Morgan Freyhof, Caylee Karg, Jenna Magnuson, Reghan Bieleski, Janie Kopus and Taylor Lauck will all be back after winning letters last season. Junior Katie Hartsel will be back from injury after lettering her freshman year.
Freshmen Hayley Duncan, Lauren Fowler, Kaylee Harrison, Addy Johnson, Anna Louden, Rachel McGill, Paige Shafer and Lauren Scott will all be fighting for their places.
“We have solid group of returning athletes, including eight of our top 10 scorers, so our expectations are high for those athletes,” WL-S Coach Ann Vogel said. “We will be a little green in some events, but we are confident will we improve in those areas as the season progresses. Overall, I’m excited with the energy and effort the girls are giving at practice. There’s more ground to close, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Tigers have won four consecutive OHC championships and are looking for a fifth.
“Greeneview is a quality team that will definitely challenge us for an OHC title, but I’m confident we can bring home our fifth consecutive title if we perform to our ability,” Vogel said. “Missing state berths in the relays, and some individual events last year has made the girls hungry to make it to the next level. I think we gained much needed experience at last year’s regional meet that will be to our advantage this season.”
On the boys’ side, Joey Adams, Brandon Wolfe, Nick Williams, Michael Conley, Christian Parker and Sam Strickland will anchor the Tigers.
“There’s definitely guys that are proven in certain events,” WL-S Coach Joe Taylor said. “We have some new guys. We’re going to have to see how their skill translates to high school competition. I think we have the potential to get some guys to the state meet.”
As a team, the Tigers would like to get their paws on an OHC title.
“I think we have a chance at that,” Taylor said. “We’re going to have to have some guys step up to do that. It’s an attainable goal, but it’s going to take some work.”
The girls will begin the season today at Versailles, while the boys are at Greeneview on March 29.
At Triad, the Cardinals will sport six returning letterwinners: Josh McMannaway (discus), Allyssa Eaton (high jump), Holly Cole (distance), Alyssa Ferguson (distance), Shelby Keatley (sprints) and Hannah Walls (throws).
“For the boys, Josh McMannaway is our only returning letterwinner,” Triad Coach Payton Printz said. “He will be in the hunt for a league title in the discus, consistently throwing in the 130s early in the season.”
Printz was also high on his girls, with a couple looking for conference titles.
“Allyssa Eaton will try to get out of the region and go to state in the high jump,” Printz said. “She has cleared five feet consistently and will compete for a league title in that event. Holly Cole and Alyssa Ferguson are both tremendous distance runners. Shelby Keatley will compete in the sprints and vie for an OHC title in the 400-meter dash. Hannah Walls throws the shot and discus and will be very competitive.”
At Mechanicsburg, the Indians have a team featuring over 40 athletes, including several top returners.
“It’s grown quite a bit,” M’burg Coach Jennifer Dietrich said. “I’m just so excited.”
Jared Butcher, David Harvey, Phil Cook and Trent Fuller will be back for the boys squad, with the girls team featuring Emily Wilson, Sophie Boeck, Calli Kaiser, Sydney Hux, Michelle Auflick, Mckenzie Klos and others.
Dietrich attests to the work ethic of the squad, as she’s made a schedule and has some new assistants in place. Now, the Indians’ practices are more like training sessions. Every day, the kids get together from 3-5 p.m. for practice and workouts.
“They have come together,” Dietrich said. “A lot of the time, I’m lucky if I’m able to wrap up practice by 5, because the kids are still finishing their workout and they’re excited to be there. I believe that the kids feel the same way I do.”
The Indians begin the season March 29 at Southeastern.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.