Track: Youth Reigns, Talent Thunderous
Leavenworth High had quite the track season a year ago, but that’s no different than most years as the Pioneers have blazed a trail on the race paths and in the field for decades.
Now, the boys’ team, coming off of a third-place finish in Class 5A, and the girls’ seeing a 17th-place finish hampered by season-long ailments for phenom Aarika Lister, are ready for a new campaign with hopes that this spring could bring similar or better dividends.
Willis Willmeth is still running the show on the boys’ side and should have enough firepower to keep things interesting.
“We have a lot of new faces this year and we lost some key parts from last season due to graduation and moving away,” Willmeth said. “Our distance crew is intact with (Daniel) Bohnemann, (Sam) Overbey and (Tanner) Hendrix and a host of others.”
The sprints, which scored a bevy of last year’s points at the state finals, will be led by Guy Ramos, Andrew Ativie, Logan Bailey and Nehemiah Griffin and hurdlers Nick Adams and Austin Shoffner are expecting some big things.
Throwers, who will have to replace Arik Parker, include Cody Herrell, Kenny Campbell and Truman Thomas to compete for varsity spots along with a lot of young talent, according to Willmeth.
“All the jobs are open and we look forward to a new season and what it brings,” he said.
The 4x100 relay team is the two-time defending champion but lost Joe Bradshaw and Anthony Gould to moving away as well as current Wichita State Shocker Clifford Robinson so the task for a three-peat will be daunting.
“We lost a lot of people, but right now we are just trying to fill places,” said Ramos, the only returner from the championship relay. “We have Nehemiah in there and substituted me for Clifford (at anchor) so we are trying to balance everyone out. (The champions moniker) is good motivation, but right now, I am not focusing on what Joe, Anthony and Cliff did. It was just quick and they were phenomenal. We have to care about what we have to do.
“Around regionals or state maybe (they will think about it), but not right now.”
The team is going to be young and so it may be better to worry about the here and now to get strong by the postseason.
“We are young with this being one of the largest groups of kids we have had in some time,” Willmeth said. “We hope to finish strong in the league and regional meets and get a lot of the kids to the state meet.”
Could it all add up to another top state finish?
“I think we could be top five,” Ramos said. “Most of our points are going to come from half distance, half sprints or mostly sprints and some distance. I feel our distance team is stronger this year and we want more points from them. I think they are going to really show out.
“(Shawn Markert) is doing excellent (in pole vault).”
The girls’ team is now led by Rob Marriott, a longtime assistant for both teams. He takes over the Pioneers and a rejuvenated Lister.
“Aarika Lister will be a dominant force in the sprints,” Marriott said. “Maddy Walter Sherrits and Chloe Manner will do well in the distance events. Markita Swanagan and Colby Fairley will both do well in the throws.”
Freshman Wynter Ramos notes the focus that Lister has brought back after winning back-to-back 100- and 200-meter titles in 2015-16, but fell short last year as she battled injuries.
“In the indoor season, she beat literally almost everybody – there was no one who could catch her,” she said. “She came back and is going to have a great season. She is looking good and she is one of the more dedicated people.”
The freshman Ramos said that the girls are still hoping to shape the team’s identity.
“Right now it’s a little rough, because we are trying to focus on who’s fast and who’s not fast and where everyone needs to be,” said Wynter Ramos, who is running the 200- and 400-meters and two relays. “It’s kind of easy because I’ve been running since the seventh grade. I am used to having all these different tasks to do.”
Marriott notes the loss of a few girls through military family movement and the numbers will again be a bit low.
That doesn’t change expectations for some good performances.
“We should do quite well in all aspects of the sport,” Marriott said. “We are very young, but our goal is to take as many girls to state as possible. Our next goal would be to put them on the podium in Wichita.”
Brian Malm will have quite the dichotomy of challenges this spring.
On one hand, he returns with the ninth-best Class 5A girls’ team in the state, which lost a number of big-point scorers at last year’s state meet, but still has plenty of firepower to keep things interesting.
He has a boys’ team that may not have rocked the track and field world a year ago, but they were also a very young group that showed continual growth and offered a sneak preview of potential greatness. Now expectations get real after a Kaw Valley League runner-up in 2017.
Key returnees for the defending KVL girls’ champions are seniors Regan Gatson, Jaci Huckabee and Alanah Clarke.
“They are all multi-time league, regional and state medalists that we are excited to see lead and compete for us this season,” Malm said. “For our girls we should be well balanced this year in all areas. We have some great additions to our sprint squad that should make them very competitive.
“Definitely our bigger losses were Tori Robinson, Emma Bresser and Sara LaMoe. Those ladies, besides being phenomenal athletes that scored a lot of points, provided great leadership and were genuine good people to be around.”
They will have to overcome some issues especially depth, even if they can fill all events, but without the numbers they’ve seen in the past.
“Although we don’t have a lot of numbers, because we have a little more experience with our elder runners, I think it’s going to be a pretty good season despite the fact we are lacking a little bit,” Huckabee said. “The distance girls, we lost Emma and Tori for our 4x8 team and I know we have a couple of younger girls that possibly want to pursue taking it on. The 4x1 and 4x4 also lost Tori and Emma and there are some freshmen coming up that are excited to be a part of that team.
“One of the deepest things right now is in the field events – especially in throwing. It’s not something that has been so prominent in our program before. We all have the heart out here right now. There is a lot of unity with the girls … that’s only going to push our team.”
Huckabee hopes to come out strong after struggling in cross country season with injuries and a rough finish to the last track season.
“Definitely, since the past two years with track specifically, I have gained more confidence,” Huckabee said. “I always want to be the best I can be and you can only do that by coming out here and putting in the work every single day.”
Lansing’s boys will be able to rely on Ryan Ward and Carlos Acevedo and the distance group.
“Ryan and Carlos are similar to the girls, in that they are seasoned and have competed at a high level as well,” Malm said. “They too will provide leadership for us this season. Our distance group is younger, but has a lot of experience, had a great winter of training, and are coming off a successful cross country season. It will be exciting to see them perform this spring.”
The boys lost Colin Dike and Max Erickson who provided leadership during last season’s growing pains.
“For our boys, our strength will be in our distance events, followed closely by the other areas. We had a great winter and this spring has been phenomenal. This team genuinely wants to succeed and are working amazingly hard to be better. We will have to wait until competition actually starts, but I am excited to see them develop.”
Malm will still have to face the realities of his boys’ youth as they will have to step up against more physically mature teams, but he believes their work ethic and talent could help them make up that distance.
But the boys’ confident display over the course of last spring didn’t hurt their psyche.
“As soon as (last year) started, we are so competitive, that no matter what it is, we always wanted to compete,” TJ Robinson said. “If you watch any of our runs, you see us always going at it and pushing to be better than we expected to be. We have runners that didn’t know how good they were and when they started they realized, ‘Wow, I am good at this.’
“(Last year) we definitely didn’t have anything to lose, but if we did bad we knew that was expected, so we wanted to do better. So we were relaxed and doing our thing.”
Now, the expectations are higher.
“Now that we have times and know where we are at and we have more people trying to push up and be top dogs and that helps us every day, that competition,” Robinson said. “There is definitely an expectation to perform well. We have so much potential that if we just met 75 percent of it, we would be really, really good. We have to just see what happens.”
It’s Lansing track and field and Malm holds his expectations high once again.
“For the girls, our goals for this season are to win the KVL again,” Malm said. “This will be a challenge without the depth, but I think we can do that. I would like to see the girls be in the top 10 (at state) again. For the boys, I would like to see a lot more individuals qualify for the state meet this year. I think we have that potential. Finally, I would like to see all three boys’ and girls’ relays qualify to state. I am proud of our relay work and would like to see that continue to be successful.”
The Basehor-Linwood track teams bring back a lot of athletes from a team that had its moments last year, but could expect even more this spring.
JC Watson, Jace Friesen and Kendall Novo-Gradac are expected to lead the boys’ team while Rylea Oliver, Ellie Dussilier, Riley Tinder and Isabella Nusbaum will spearhead the Bobcat girls’ attack.
“Our team strength lays within our character and our returning group of upperclassmen,” BLHS head coach Scott Russell said. “We also add some new athletes that are first-time participants in track and field but have shown great promise in our preseason testing.”
The goal is to see the team compete for the final KVL championship and qualify a record number of Bobcats to state during the coach’s time – surpassing 23.
“We want to make a run at the top three at state,” Russell said.
Glenda Connelly is always optimistic when it comes to her Ram’s track program.
Even if low in numbers, she believes in a number of the athletes she has in front of her and this spring is no different.
Connelly has Luke Oatney, a dual champion in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs to lean on while Glynn Smith and Devin Culbertson bring plenty of experience in the field events.
“We will miss Clayton Price and Bridget Howard, both are competing on the college level this year, Bridget at Benedictine and Clayton at the University of Saint Mary,” Connelly said. “As a team, we have strong leadership from our returning seniors Luke, Glynn, Devin, Breydon Baragary, Joe Mohan, Zac Carnoli, Montanna Adams and Maura McLendon.
Noah Trader is a senior, new to the track program. He was a fine athlete and leader on the basketball team, so he fits right in the program.”
Connelly sees her athletes having a firm grasp on the understanding of what it takes to compete at the varsity level and acknowledges the skills the senior provide throughout the lineup.
“We also are fortunate to have many freshmen and sophomores out this year,” the coach said. “Underclassmen have a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm to contribute to the team.”
The team’s goals are to place higher as a team in league and qualify more athletes to state, including more girl athletes and relays.