By Josh Sigler
For the first time since 1987, Eastern High School will have a new head boys track and field coach.
After 25 years in that position, Paul Nicholson handed over the reins to Austin Roark. The program doesn’t seem to have missed a beat, as the Comets will enter the season ranked No. 20 in the preseason Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches poll.
“It’s a lot of fun. I was left with a great team,” Roark said. He is a 2007 Eastern graduate. He competed as a long jumper and sprinter for the Comets before moving on to Bethel College in Mishawaka, where he competed at the NAIA level in the long jump and triple jump.
“When coach Nicholson stepped down, he left a lot of talent,” Roark continued. “I’ve stepped in and continued to do what he had going. I couldn’t be happier with the guys I have. It’s a little more hectic but I enjoy it. I enjoy being around the kids. They’re hard workers, so I have no complaints.”
Howard County track and field teams will have a delayed start to the 2013 season as heavy snowfall forced schools to cancel their meets scheduled for the first week of the spring’s regular season.
For when the season does get underway, the following is a look at each county team in order of finish in last season’s sectional meet.
The sectional champion Wildkats will look to restock the cupboard in spots vacated by outgoing seniors Tony Moses, Taylor Killings and Armon Bridgeforth, who combined to have a hand in eight individual and relay sectional titles for Kokomo a season ago.
“There are lot of question marks,” coach Tom Byrnes said. “The weather has hurt us a little bit. I like to have an intra-squad meet before the start of the season and we weren’t able to do that. We had a meet scheduled with Anderson and Western and that’s not going to happen now. We’re a little bit behind. We got spoiled the last couple years with some really nice runners. And I always like to try to get a meet in before spring break, but this is more traditional. But everyone is in the same boat unless you have indoor facilities.”
To help bridge the gap, the Kats will lean heavily on their field events, led by a strong contingent of throwers and jumpers.
Senior Waylon Coulter is the returning sectional champion in the pole vault and the high jump. Coulter qualified for the Hoosier State Relays indoor state finals in both events, clearing 6 feet, 3 inches in the high jump and 13-6 in the pole vault.
In the shot put and discus rings, senior Darrion McAlister leads a strong contingent of returners. He was the sectional runner-up in both events a season ago before taking fifth in the regional in both. He qualified for the HSR indoor state finals with a heave of 48-0 in the shot.
Classmates Christian Collins and Michael Zehner will add solid Nos. 2 and 3 options in both events for the Kats, while freshmen Jamal Kasem and Marcelle Kenner will add depth.
Sophomore Jordan Nix will join Coulter in the high jump, while senior Harvey Lenoir will headline the long jump, followed by sophomore Drevon Ellis.
The area the Kats have been hit worst by graduation losses is in the sprints. Lenoir returns with the most experience and will be the crew’s “bread and butter,” according to Byrnes. Senior move-in Tyrelle Daniel will compete there with Nix, senior Troy Solomon, juniors Jordan Rawlins and David Florian, and freshmen Colten Pearce, Rolando Tyler, Jr., Jordan Williams, Patrick Jackson and JaRon Gray.
Daniel and Nix have also emerged as the squad’s top hurdlers.
Junior Jeremy Breedlove returns as the sectional runner-up in the 3,200-meter run and will headline the distance crew for the Kats. Joining Breedlove will be fellow juniors Jordan Fivecoat and Ben Huff, senior Christian Benjamin, freshmen Ethan Sharp and Arland McIlrath and sophomore Jadyan Whitehead.
“We have lots of question marks, but that’s what dual meets are for,” Byrnes said. “They’re for fitting the pieces together so we have as strong a team as we can for the conference and postseason meets.”
With a number of high level athletes back from last season’s sectional runner-up squad, the Comets are hoping to claim a fourth straight Mid-Indiana Conference title and once again challenge for their first sectional title since 1998.
“Our seniors want it just as bad as I do,” Roark said. “We sat down during the first week of practice and talked about winning a sectional as a goal. We were second last year, and we feel we have a lot of guns to do it. Our ultimate goal is to win the sectional. Our last one was in 1998 and we feel like this is our year. We feel like we have the guys to do it.”
Headlining the Comets returners is senior long jumper and hurdler Grant Cole.
Cole finished 15th in last season’s state finals in the long jump and is off to a bounding start this season, clearing 23 feet, nine inches in the Hoosier State Relays indoor state finals at Indiana Wesleyan University. That’s the top long jump in the state so far this season according to Roark, and Track and Field News magazine says it’s the sixth best long jump in the country so far this season.
Cole has interest from several NCAA Division I schools.
Classmate Josiah Marx also has Division I interest in the long jump.
Junior Will Porter leads the Comets’ sprinters. He finished third in the 100-meter dash in last season’s sectional. He will be joined by junior Riley Haupert, sophomore Papee Byers and freshman Trey Thomas in the sprinting events.
Cole will be the squad’s top hurdler. He was the MIC champion in the 300 intermediates before finishing third in the sectional. Senior K.J. Myers will also compete in the hurdles.
The distance crew is led by junior Lewis Duke, who qualified for the regional in the 1,600 last season after a scratch. Senior Adam Schaaf, junior Joshua Sommers, senior move-in Sam Higdon and senior Damon Byers will join Duke in the distance events.
Damon Byers, Sommers, Duke and Myers won an MIC title in the 4x800 relay last season.
Josh Mentis is likely to hold down a spot in the 4x400 relay.
In the field events, seniors James Reed, Chris Travis and Micah Thomas will be the primary shot putters, where they will look to replace Josiah Price, who finished 11th in the state last season before moving on to play football at Michigan State.
Reed and sophomore Brent Backman will compete in the discus. Senior Donovan Ederlein, sophomore Tanner Reed and freshman Andrew Doak will try their hands at the pole vault. And Cole and Trey Thomas will be the primary high jumpers.
“Individually, we’d like to get as many guys to state as possible,” Roark said. “We had two last year and we want more than that this year. We want to peak at the right time, win the sectional and get down to Bloomington [for the state finals].”
Coach Dave Stevens’ Purple Tigers return 66 percent of their scoring from a year ago. The squad boasts No. 1 returners in all events but three, and has at least three members back from all of last season’s relay teams.
“We’re looking good as far as veterans returning,” Stevens said. “Depth will be something we will have to work on because we don’t have quite the numbers we’ve had in years past. I know who my Nos. 1 and 2s are, but we need to get outside and see who are those No. 3s. One of our blessings is more depth than most teams with 45 guys out, but we are used to 60. We have some guys who will move events because we are so heavy in some areas. The guys are banding together and it’s fun to watch.”
Leading the Tigers’ charge are senior James Schulte and sophomore Darren Curry. Schulte is the reigning MIC champion in the 400, while Curry won an MIC title in the pole vault last season as a freshman.
Junior Cameron Oden leads the sprinters after advancing to the HSR indoor state finals in the 55-meter dash. Senior Brandon Curry, junior Tyler Martin, sophomore Chase Gromko, junior Curtis Townsend and freshman Parker Davis round out a deep sprinter lineup for Northwestern.
Brandon Curry, sophomore Taylor McLain and junior Dakota Smith will be the primary competitors in the 110 hurdles, while sophomores Ethan Dubbels and Chase Moser will be in the mix to run the 300 hurdles.
Schulte will lead the middle distance runners. Junior Keegen Fessenden and senior Nick Perry return to the 4x400 relay team. Dubbels, Townsend and sophomore Josh Perry could also been seen in the 400 and 4x400.
Senior Austin Hartman, Nick Perry, senior Brad Jakes, McLain, junior Andrew Fackler and freshman Owen Munson will all take a crack at the 800. Hartman, Jakes and Fackler were members of last season’s sectional runner-up 4x800 relay team.
The junior trio of Zach Duranto, Logan Redman and Shad Jakes will be the long distance runners for the Tigers.
In the field events, Darren Curry will be joined by sophomore Parker Fessenden in the pole vault.
Gromko and freshman Grant Condon appear to have the upper hand in the long jump, although limited time outside has left Stevens with little to go on.
Senior Weston Cockrell will lead the throwers in the shot put and discus after a strong showing in the HSR indoor meets. Junior Colton Ferren will specialize in the shot, while classmate Zach Hetzner and sophomores Shawn Shweitzer and Tyler Thatcher will also heave the shot.
Junior David Schaaf and junior newcomer Billy Parslow will also throw the discus for the Tigers.
“I can’t wait to get outside,” Stevens said. “Of my seasons coaching high school track, this is the least number of outside practices we’ve ever had going into spring break. When you think about it, that’s an outstanding statistic. Last year was the most practices we were ever able to get in before spring break and this year is the least. Many of my peers may say the same thing. It’s been really tough. We’re looking forward to getting outside and developing the blossoming athletes they are going to become.”
The Panthers are eager to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish in the sectional, and will do so with a deep distance crew and strong throwers.
“Distance will be strong,” coach Marvin Boswell said. “We will be much improved in the sprints and hurdles. Our hurdlers have especially shown a lot of improvement from what I’ve seen. We’re looking forward to getting a chance to run. I think we will be fine in the field events. Our throws should be pretty good, as should our high jump and long jump, as well.”
Leading Western’s returners is junior distance runner Matt Grider, who won sectional titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 before finishing 21st in the 3,200 at the state finals.
Senior Riley Worl was fourth in last season’s sectional in the 3,200 and returns, while sophomore Riley Carter and junior Austin Elliott will also compete in the distance events.
Senior James Davis will the squad’s top sprinter, where he will be joined by junior Robert Harless, sophomore Zach Shahan and senior Justin Brubaker. Senior Nick Braden and juniors Braden Cannon and Ted Martin will be the primary hurdlers.
In the middle distance relays, juniors Jake Bradshaw and Dustin Hinkle and sophomores Auston Davenport and Devin Vent are all likely to land a spot on the track.
Juniors Brett Boswell and Russell McDorman will headline the Panther shot putters, while sophomore Corey Hinkle and junior Austin Berndt will both take a crack at the discus.
Braden and Cannon will be the top long jumpers, while Shahan and junior George Conwell will do battle in the high jump.
“We’ve been able to get outside and have been running outside all year,” Marvin Boswell said. “We do not practice inside. Everything has been outside. Our field events are a little behind, but we feel our running events are in pretty good shape and right on schedule. We’ll come back from spring break and be ready to get rolling right along.”
Coach Matt Carlile returns for his second year as the Titans’ head coach with regional qualifiers Jay’Shon Jones and Kalob Bitner in tow.
Jones finished fourth in the 100 high hurdles in last season’s sectional as a junior, while classmate Bitner finished third in the shot put.
Jones will be joined by sophomore newcomer Chris Willis and freshmen Darius Taper and Eli Meadows in the sprinting events, while sophomore Stephen Sholty will join Jones in the hurdles.
Freshmen Robbie Tebbe, Kyle Orzech, Zach Bentley, Nick Nguyen and sophomore newcomer Kaleil Rucker will headline a young crew of distance runners that has Carlile excited.
Tebbe, Orzech, Bentley, Rucker, sophomore Austin Smith and Swedish foreign exchange student Samuel Oscarsson will be called upon in the middle distance relays.
Freshmen Tyler Delon and Dylan Lapetina and seniors Josh Foust and Dustin Wright will join Bitner in the shot put and discus rings.
Meadows and Taper will be the squad’s top long jumpers, while sophomore Chris Willis will join the duo in the high jump.
“I think we’ll be strong in the throws and hurdles events, with returners who can score there,” Carlile said. “Our middle distance freshmen are going to have a good chance at scoring some points. Growing those teams, as well as our young jump teams is important. We’ll have four years out of them. We’d just like to get outside a little more. We’d like for this weather to break with already one meet canceled.”