By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Eastern’s girls track and field team is ready to chase some more championship hardware.
Two weeks ago, the Comets won their fourth straight Howard County meet. Last week, they won their fourth straight Mid-Indiana Conference meet. Now, the postseason is here, with the Madison-Grant Sectional tonight.
“We’re looking forward to taking the next step,” Eastern coach Michael Goodspeed said. “We’re coming off a very good performance at our conference meet. I think we have a lot of momentum right now. We’re looking forward to seeing how we compare with other teams [tonight].”
Eastern is looking for a repeat sectional championship. The small school with big talent fell just short of the top spot in 2011, then broke through last year to claim its first sectional title, ending Kokomo’s long-time reign.
In addition to Eastern and Kokomo, the 13-team sectional field includes Cass, Logansport, Maconaquah, Madison-Grant, Northwestern, Peru, Pioneer, Taylor, Tipton, Tri-Central and Western. Top-four finishers in each event will advance to next week’s Fort Wayne Northrop Regional.
“We think there’s certainly some contenders out there, but as last year’s champion, I think we’re just focused on ourselves. We just want to go out there and perform at our seeds and let the points fall where they may,” Goodspeed said.
The regional assignment is a new one. The Madison-Grant Sectional fed into the Warsaw Regional last year.
Eastern’s four-year run of excellence has been fueled by its senior class, which features three Division I recruits — Bethany Neeley (Indiana), Brittany Neeley (Indiana) and Sarah Wagner (Lipscomb). Bethany Neeley is the defending state champion in the 1,600 run.
At the MIC meet last week, Bethany Neeley won the 1,600 run and 300 hurdles, Brittany Neeley won the 200 and 400 dashes and Wagner won the 3,200 run and was runner-up in the high jump. They also ran on winning relay teams.
The Comets, quite simply, are loaded in the distance events.
“From the 300 hurdles on up, we’re going to perform well, I think,” Goodspeed said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what we can do. We’re confident we’ll get several into the regional and hopefully we’ll have at least two state champions as they work their way through the postseason.”
Bethany Neeley is the defending sectional champ in the 1,600 run and 300 hurdles. Brittany Neeley is the defending champ in the 400 and 800. Wagner is the defending champ in the 3,200.
Goodspeed added the Comets will run relays in the postseason this year, something they opted against last year in order to strictly focus on individual events. The 4x800 team of freshman Jessie Sprinkles, Wagner and the Neeley sisters is one to watch.
“Our 4x800 team has the No. 3 time in state history,” Goodspeed said. “Right now, we’re seven seconds ahead of any other team in the state.”
Kokomo comes into the sectional with some momentum as well, following a runner-up finish in the North Central Conference meet.
“We’re looking good,” Kokomo coach K.O. Jackson said. “We’re really proud with the effort we’ve received in the field events this season. I wasn’t expecting that. We thought we’d be strong in [sprints] with our great nucleus of juniors and we have been strong, but our field events really have blossomed with the additions of freshman Deju Miller in high jump, freshman Taylor Coram in long jump, sophomore Darrylle Cole in the long jump and junior Makayla Fowler in the discus and shot. They have helped make our field events a major strength.
“Now it’s time for our sprinters to get out there and put a show on. I know we have the talent.”
The Kats’ 4x100 relay team of juniors Brianna Lancaster, Ma-ryssa Martin, Raven Pugh and Iesha Wallace reached the state finals last season.
Wallace is the defending sectional champ in the 100 dash. The Kats’ talented junior class also includes Summer Blackamore (discus and shot put) and Anh Pham (pole vault). Blackamore and Pham both won their events at the 2012 sectional meet and went on to reach the state meet.
Pham, Blackamore (discus), Cole (long jump), Miller (high jump) and the 4x100 team won NCC titles this year.
Jackson said a sectional championship is not his goal in the least tonight. Rather, he simply wants his athletes to qualify for the regional and hopefully record personal-best performances.
Northwestern was third in the 2012 sectional, finishing just two points back of Kokomo. The Tigers are led by sophomore Kaitlyn Daanen, who is the defending 200 dash champion.
At the MIC meet last week, Daanen won the 100 dash and ran a leg on the winning 4x100 relay.