By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — A second-place finish in the state is a hard act to top.
And the graduation of so many seniors who had been a huge part of the team for so long is normally a crippling thing for a team.
The Troy Trojans won’t have that problem.
“Sure, it’ll be hard to top what the girls did last year, finishing second in the 4x400 relay,” Troy girls track and field coach Kurt Snyder said. “But the group we have back has been working hard — and the cupboard isn’t bare, that’s for sure.”
Junior Gracie Huffman — who was the lone underclassman on that 4x400 team last year — and senior Shanelle Byrd — who, along with Huffman, also ran on the 4x100 team that placed sixth in the state — return to lead a talented group of Trojans which, despite its relative youth, also brings plenty of experience to the table.
The Trojans have nine seniors in total, Along with Byrd, Abby Brinkman has been closing in on 10-0 in the pole vault in the preseason, Tori Schlarman will take graduate Catelyn Schmiedebusch’s place in the hurdles, Maci Wadsworth will throw the discus, McKenna Poling will add depth to the distance crew and Ellie Walters, Jena Stewart and Emma Brumfield will add experience and leadership, also.
Reoining the team after a couple of years away will also be senior Leah Soutar, who missed her entire senior season in soccer in the fall due to an injury suffered in the first game.
“She just wants to compete, and she’s looking good, too,” Snyder said. “She’ll help us a lot in the 400 and 800. She wasn’t here for the first week of practice. The second week, she just shows up and says, ‘I’m ready to go, coach.’ Her first day, she was running right with Gracie in the 400.”
Junior Megan Falknor also joins the team after exclusively running cross country, and along with juniors Cristina Dennison, Natalie Snyder and Courtney Mazzulla will make up a very deep mid- and long-distance corps.
Sophomore Kelsey Walters is the Trojans’ best returning shot put thrower, and she will help in the sprints, as well. Junior Ashlin Colclasure was right behind Troy’s graduated high jumpers last year, also, and now will get her own opportunity.
“These girls have all been with us for a long time, and they’re very experienced. They maybe just didn’t get as many chances because of the other girls we had,” Snyder said. “Now they’ll just get more opportunities to show what they can do this year, and we’ve also got a number of freshmen that are really going to help us.”
Which will be necessary if the Trojans want to continue their Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division dominance.
“The good thing about this group is that they don’t know anything but winning the North,” Snyder said. “The seniors have won it every year since they were freshmen, and even the incoming freshmen won it in eighth grade last year. Everyone in the North is going to be coming for us, though, since this is the first time really in several years it’s been up for grabs.”
The Tippecanoe Red Devils’ overall look is a young one this season, but with a few key returners — particularly in the distance events — they should still be a formidable force.
“Our women’s team is very young, with 27 underclassmen out,” Tippecanoe coach Bob Crawford said. “This year will be a learning experience for most, but we will be very strong in particular events.”
Back for her senior season is Allison Sinning, who placed sixth in the 3,200 at state last year. Claudia Barhorst, Emily Wolfe and Kat Wilcher will lead a strong group that adds cross country runners Hailey Brumfield and Brinna Price.
Alyssa Crusey and Sammie Roland will lead the field crew after strong freshman seasons in the long jump, and the Devils’ sprinting corps is largely wide open, with a number of freshmen who could come in and make some noise.
Milton-Union’s girls program still is going through a rebuilding period, but coach Michael Meredith and crew are hard at work building the Bulldogs back to greatness.
“We are working hard on building the girls program back to a well-round, top-notch team,” he said.
Kinsey Douglas returns for her senior season and will lead the team as a high- and long-jumper, with Caitlyn Hurd throwing the shot and discus. Grace Warner, Haily Bohse and Katie Litton lead a relatively deep distance crew, while Rachel Paden returns as the team’s top sprinter.
• Miami East
Bruce Vanover again has high expectations for the Vikings.
As always, the Vikings will be strong in the sprints. Leading the way for the Vikings in sprinting will be varsity returners Lindsey Roeth, Kelly Rindler, Renee Deford, and newcomer Lindsey Black. There will be a lot of competition in the hurdles this year with returners Haleigh Smith, Marley Roberts, and Emma Monnin. Jillian Wesco is a freshman sprinter that could have a solid year on the track team, but only time will tell.
Returning to lead the Viking’s distance crew will be Abigail Amheiser, Abby Hawkins, and Sami Sands. Joining this group of distance runners will be freshman Marie Ewing and Lorenza Savini.
In the field events, our team will be led by returning throwers, Ashley Current, Megan Kinnison, and Karson Mahaney.
Overall, Vanover expects to have another strong season.
“We have a mix of veterans and young athletes, but it is still their goal to be in the hunt for a league title, and with hard work, it is possible that they could be looking to win their fifth consecutive league title this year,” Vanover said. “There are 25 girls on the roster this year, as we were hit hard by graduation last year. So, with only five seniors this year, and an abundance of youth, we are hoping to pull together and do extremely well. These girls understand what it takes to be successful, and they are looking to build on the success that they have experienced of the last four years.”
Last season the Covington girls track team had a highly successful season with only 13 kids on the roster and with numbers increasing to 22 kids this season, the expectations are even higher in 2014.
And leading the way will be senior Jackie Siefring, who placed third at state in the 300 meter hurdles and is fresh off an indoor state championship in the long jump. She also returns strong after suffering a torn ACL last June that forced her to forgo her senior season in basketball. Siefring looks to improve on the five school records she broke a year ago in the 100, the 200, the 100 hurdles, the 300 hurdles and the long jump. She also looks to break more records in 2014.
Also returning after placing at state a year ago is sophomore distance runner Carly Shell, who placed 6th at state in the 3200 and owns the school record in that event with a time of 11.25.50. Shell is also fresh off placing 24th at state in Cross Country.
Senior Hannah Retz also returns after anchoring the 4x800 relay team that won a league championship a year ago, along with teammates Juliann Yingst and Carly Shell. The lone runner who doesn’t return from the 4x800 relay team is Tara Snipes, but that spot will be adequately filled by newcomers Heidi Cron, Cassidy Cain or freshman Anna Dunn. Yingst and Retz will also help in mid-distance and distance events.
Due to the overall talent and increased numbers to the roster, Tobias believes his team is capable of challenging once again for a Cross County Conference championship after finishing runner-up last year to Miami East.
“I’d think we’d be right there,” he said. “We have a lot of really good kids back from last year and a very strong freshman class who will help us score points.”
With the returning talent the Bethel Bees have this season, coach Steve Pytel is optimistic — so long as the girls continue to work as hard as they are.
“I feel good about our potential,” Pytel said. “We should be better than last year. It will depend on the girls’ focus and effort on the track.”
Leading the returning Bees are a pair of senior sprinters, Maddie Ellerbrock and Ashlyn Bird. Ellerbrock finish third in the Cross County Conference in the 100 and 200 last season, as well as qualifying for the regional meet in the 200 and 4x100 relay. In addition to all that, Ellerbrock was also a regional finalist in the long jump last season. Bird, another member of the regional 4x100 team, also placed in the CCC in the 100 and 200. Also back is Tia Koewler in the 100 and relays.
Junior Marieke Van Haaren returns in the 1,600 and 3,200, while junior Lytia Hart and sophomores Courtney Golden and Bailey McCabe will run the 400 and 800. Senior Savannah Swisher will throw the shot and discus along with freshman Sarah Swisher, junior Hailey Mead will throw the discus.
• Troy Christian
Troy Christian’s girls team is small in numbers, but with one state qualifier returning they’re not short on talent.
“We have a really small team, but we have very talented athletes that are hungry for conference and even state titles,” said coach Jeff McDaniel, Troy Christian’s long-time cross country coach taking over the track team for the first season.
Sophomore Meredith Haddad returns after qualifying for the state meet in the long jump her freshman season. She will also lead the sprinting corps along with freshman Bella Miller, while freshman Emily Sloan will throw the shot and discus. Another freshman, Megan Fletcher, will lead the distance crew as a first-year runner.
Tab LaFollette returns as Railroader coach. Graduating off last year’s team was Chelsea Dross, the school record holder in the 3,200.
The returners are led by three-time state qualifier Shay LaFollette. LaFollette is a hurdler, jumper and sprinter, who holds the school record 100 hurdles, 100 dash, high jump, long jump, shot put, 1,600 relay, season points and career points.
Also returning are senior Molli Lavey (distance), junior Gabby Fair (distance) and Bailey Brewer (distance) and sophomore McKenzie Weldy (jumper). Brewer is the school record holder in both the 800 and 1,600.
“We have a small but experienced team,” LaFollette said. “It will be easier for us to do well in invitationals than in a dual meet. I believe that we have several girls that will score a lot of points for us.
“Our jumps will be very strong and we have some very talented distance runners. We would like to get a few of our runners to regionals and it would nice to see Shay make it to state in two or three events and hopefully get on the podium this year.”
Piqua girls track and field coach Erika Butler feels good about the Indians heading into her second season as coach for good reason.
Regional qualifiers returning include sophomore Bree Cheatam (300 hurdles, 1,600 relay), senior Danajha Clemons (1,600 relay) and junior Hannah Went (1,600 relay).
Also returning are seniors Teija Davis, Courtney Bensman, Kaili Ingle and Madison Evans; and sophomores Liz Duer, Kirsten Davis and Tadra Clemons
“We have some solid returning athletes this year as well as new faces.” Butler said. “The girls are looking forward to building off of the groundwork that they set last year. “We have recently selected team captains (Courtney Bensman, Danajha Clemons, and Madison Evans) and have set team goals to focus on continuous improvement every day in practice and from week to week in meets.”
Lehman coach Dwane Rowley doesn’t have a lot of numbers
“Not a big turnout, but still look to learn, compete and get better,” Rowley said.
There are four girls returning, and all are sophomores in Olivia Gorman, Caroline Heitmeyer, Olnia Leece and Kassie Lee. He’s also looking for a contribution from newcomer Tessa Brown.
Heitmeyer qualified for the State Cross Country Meet last fall, finishing 16th in Division III, and she brings her distance talents to the track this spring.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.