TERRE HAUTE —
Two new coaches are in charge among the eight Vigo County and Northview high school track teams in 2014, although one of them isn’t really that new.
Mark Raetz has taken over the Northview boys for Chad Smith, who is battling an illness. Raetz formerly headed the Terre Haute South boys program for two seasons.
“It was something that I was interested in,” explained Raetz, who also is the Knights’ football coach. “Track is definitely a sport that combines well with football. You get to know some of the other athletes in the school through that sport.”
The one who is totally new — as far as being a head coach — is Ernest Holman with the Terre Haute North boys. A 1995 graduate of North and an assistant coach there for the past eight seasons, he replaced Craig Gillaspy, who wanted to spend more time with his family.
Holman, 38, also co-owns Pioneer Pest Control with his wife Dana. In the early 1990s, he was a state-finalist sprinter for the Patriots. He later ran at Indiana State for two seasons.
“The main thing is it’s my old school,” Holman said, admitting that he considered trying to become North’s head coach in the past. “I’m ready for it now.
“I hope to bring a little bit of enthusiasm and a little bit of excitement. Hopefully, I can bring something out of them that someone else couldn’t.”
New assistant coaches are on staffs at various Wabash Valley schools. But one worth singling out is former NCAA national champion and ISU standout Felisha Johnson, who’s working with the boys and girls throwers at South.
Here’s a look at how all eight teams appear to stack up for the upcoming season:
• Northview — Third-year coach Cole Schroer will rely heavily on senior Leanna Knight, who qualified for the state finals two years ago in the long jump. She also excels in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and 400-meter relay.
Schroer mentioned that Knight, who has committed to attend St. Joseph’s for track in the fall, recently won the long jump with a leap of 18-8 in the indoor state championships at Marion.
“I think she’s going to be very good,” he said. “She’s going to be right up there with the best [in the state], I’d say. She really focused on the weightroom [during the offseason] and it’s showing. She’s a lot stronger and a lot more explosive now.”
Junior Ashley Kidwell, a distance runner specializing in the 3,200, also figures to make some noise beyond the Wabash Valley.
Perhaps the state finals.
“That’s our goal,” Schroer acknowledged. “She’s definitely got a chance to make it that far.”
Other likely point producers are juniors Emily Conrad, a distance runner who’s injured (foot) but hopes to return to action by mid-April, and Gracie Geswein, a hurdler, as well as senior Natasha Barrett, who competes in the sprints and is a member of the Knights’ 400 relay group.
“I’ve also got a solid group of young distance runners,” Schroer added.
“We’re getting better every year. We get better in our [Western Indiana] conference every year [finishing third in 2013] and I think we will this year too. I’m looking forward to it.”
Next Thursday, Northview will have its first meet at home against Clay City, Owen Valley and South Putnam.
• Terre Haute North — Beginning his 16th season at the helm, Mike Dason is coming off a 2013 campaign in which the Patriots finished sixth as a team in the IHSAA state finals.
Leading the 2014 North squad are sophomore Lindsay Welker, who placed sixth in the 800 meters (2 minutes, 14.77 seconds) and helped North’s 3,200 and 1,600 relay teams finish fourth and 22nd respectively in last season’s state finals; junior Keirra Porter, who placed second in the long jump (18 feet, 11 3/4 inches) and eighth in the 100 hurdles (14.98 seconds) and helped North’s 400 relay squad finish 16th in the same meet; and senior Rachel Gutish, who placed 12th in the state in the pole vault (11-0).
Also back are sophomore Keeliegh Stigall, who came in 27th in the 200 in the state and helped with the above-mentioned 400 relay foursome; senior Dashana Johnson, a possible new member of the 400 relay group and a strong competitor in the 100; junior Carson Smith, who has high-jumped 5-2; senior Bri Burgess, a solid shot-putter and discus thrower; senior Layne Curley, who competes in the 400 and 800; and senior Jessi Conley, another member of last year’s 3,200 relay foursome and a returnee in the 800 and 1,600.
Dason said those with potential to start making names for themselves this season are sophomore Josie Rakes, pole vault; freshman Devon Zeck, 1,600 and 3,200; freshman Stephanie Williams, sprints; sophomore Anna Nagy, 800 and 1,600; sophomore Alex Hughes, hurdles; sophomore Kaylee Parks, throws; sophomore Morgan Morris, 3,200; sophomore Hannah Bunch, 1,600 and 3,200; and sophomore Lexus Dunbar, 200 and 400.
“We just completed our indoor season and a lot of these girls showed potential as far as being point-getters for us,” Dason pointed out. “But there’s a big difference between running indoors and running outdoors.
“We’re not as deep as we have been in the years past. We do have a lot of potential in Kierra Porter and Lindsay Welker. … We could stand to get a lot of points at the state meet.”
North’s first meet will be April 15 at Northview.
• Terre Haute South — Kicking off his eighth season as coach, Ed Jarvis is smiling because he thinks senior distance runner Nikki Thiede might be close to her old form after a foot issue has hampered and even stopped her at times for the last couple years.
“She’s actually been running well as far as her foot goes,” he told the Tribune-Star. “She’s the healthiest in track that she’s been since her freshman year.”
Jarvis also likes what he’s seeing from senior Katie Schmidt, who specializes in the 1,600. “She’s been really consistent for us,” he noted.
Other seniors who should be regular contributors are Brooke Deighton (high jump), Samantha Holmes (3,200), tennis player Nicole Howe (800) and Maddy Tetzlaff (400).
“I think those are the seniors who will score the most points for us,” Jarvis predicted. “I think our 4 by 800 relay [Howe, Thiede, Schmidt and Holmes] is going to be OK this year. As far as them going to state, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
A couple of the Braves’ newcomers who might make an immediate impact are freshmen Amanda Moore (400) and Molly Essig (hurdles) and junior Lauren Ross (long jump).
“We have a lot of senior leadership,” Jarvis summarized. “We had not the best training over the winter, but we had seniors kick it in and make sure everyone got their stuff done.”
April 12 in the Columbus North Invitational will be South’s first meet.
• West Vigo — Because this past week has been spring break for Vigo County students and teachers, third-year coach Scott McClain has been out of state and unreachable by phone.
Don’t fear, though, because assistant coach Tiffany White provided the scoop on the Vikings.
For starters, she said senior Shaelynn White will be fast in the 100, 200, 400 relay and 1,600 relay.
No surprise there.
“I believe she has a possibility of making it to state,” coach White assessed. “She’s looking good so far. She’s working hard to get there.”
Other key returnees include junior Shelby Sparks (400, 1,600 relay and 3,200 relay), senior Taylor Bunch (800, 1,600 relay and 3,200 relay), senior Alexa Clingerman (pole vault and discus) and sophomore Alathia Bowden (100 hurdles, long jump, 400 relay and 1,600 relay).
A senior newcomer to the team, Shelby Byrley, is expected to fare well in the shot put and discus. Plus, twin sisters Kayla and Julia Ennis, both freshmen, are possible impact makers — Kayla in long-distance runs and the 3,200 relay and Julia in the hurdles and 400 relay.
“This is one of our better teams that we’ve had,” Tiffany White emphasized. “They all have positive attitudes and they’re just eager to work hard every day.”
West Vigo will get its season started at Riverton Parke — with North Vermillion also competing — next Tuesday.
• Northview — Coach Raetz began his discussion of the Knights by praising senior Ian Heffner, a 2013 state qualifier in the 300 hurdles.
“He’s real close to our school records in that and the 800,” Raetz said of Heffner, who placed 20th in the state in the 300 hurdles last season. “He’s gonna be good again. He works hard and he’s a high-character kid. In fact, he just got accepted at the Air Force Academy.”
Then there’s senior Nick Yocom in the 800 and 1,600. Another future St. Joseph’s runner, he’ll also help out the Northview relays.
“He’s had an outstanding high school career,” Raetz remarked. “I remember seeing him and thinking he was pretty good when I was coaching at South.”
A pair of other key Knights answer to the same name — Levi Brown — which caused Raetz to chuckle a little when he tried to describe how he differentiates between the two.
Strangely enough, both Levi Browns are juniors and both played football for Raetz in the fall.
One has an actual first name of Aaron, so sometimes Raetz calls him “A. Levi Brown.” This one does the long jump, high jump and sprints.
“He’ll be over 20 feet in the long jump,” Raetz insisted.
The other Levi Brown is in his first season of competing in track. He’s primarily a hurdler.
Raetz also anticipates big things from senior Daniel Kimball, the team’s best thrower who recently committed to attend Wabash College in the fall.
A few other probable contributors are senior Travis Beil (pole vault, hurdles and relays), senior Jacob Little (sprints and long jump), sophomore Ethan Linton (sprints and high jump) and senior move-in Michael McCullough (sprints and relays).
“I’m encouraged with what we’ve seen,” Raetz mentioned. “I feel like our numbers are good. We’re around 45 kids. With Heffner and Yocom, we feel pretty good about the 800, mile [1,600] and 4 by 800 [relay].”
• Terre Haute North — Coach Holman doesn’t usually speak loudly. But he does speak fondly of senior returnee Jordan Moothery, who should excel in the 100, 200, long jump and 400 relay.
Moothery and junior Dominick Farr helped the Patriots’ 400 relay squad finish 22nd in the state in 2013. Farr also participates in the 100 and 200.
Other North standouts with familiar names are senior distance runner Peter Davis and junior pole-vaulter Tyler Nemeth, plus previously injured senior Maciej “Magic” Tomaszewski is back to compete in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relay.
Holman hopes junior Nana Dadzie (400, 800 and 1,600 relay), sophomore Mikey Hettinger (shot put and discus), senior Ricky Scank (shot put and discus) and junior Ben Fletcher (hurdles) are hitting their stride and ready to become consistent point providers.
Also worth mentioning, according to Holman, is freshman hurdler R.J. Wood.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Holman acknowledged. “But I think we’ll do pretty well. I expect big things from Jordan, Peter Davis and Magic. Jordan has a real good chance of making it to state. If everything falls right for Magic and Peter, they can make it to state too.”
• Terre Haute South — Whew.
That might have been the reaction of second-year coach Kyle Walsh to the quick recovery of Indiana University-bound senior Jackson Bertoli, the 2013 boys state champion in cross country, from his December surgery to remove a cyst from his lower leg.
“He’s back to training now,” Walsh told the Tribune-Star. “He wants to compete at the state-championship level again. He wants to give it a run for the 3,200 state title. … I’m thrilled to have one more season to work with Jackson. I’m definitely enjoying it.”
Walsh said Bertoli’s primary focus will be the 3,200, where he finished fourth in the state last season (9:12.81), but he’ll also do some 1,600s.
The Braves’ coach said Bertoli is “100 percent physically,” but he’s still working on regaining his conditioning from before the surgery.
Another 2013 state-finalist runner is back in the form of senior Riley Stohler, who placed 15th in the 800 (1:57.19). Walsh said he’ll be gunning for Bertoli’s school record in the 1,600.
“This year, he would like to qualify for the state finals in the 1,600 and 800,” Walsh said of Stohler.
Walsh also will count on junior Spencer Danielson in distance running, senior Junior Berry (the ISU football recruit) and junior Jordon Montgomery in the throws, seniors Logan Deady and Ian Newton in the sprints, senior DaShon Heyen in the sprints and high jump, junior move-in Chris Howard in the long jump and sprints, senior Nick Lee (a diver in swimming) in the pole vault and Robinson (Ill.) transfer Nolan Hillard in the hurdles.
In addition, Walsh expects three distance-running freshmen — Jayce Farnsworth, Griffin Barger and Ryan Hannaford — to be formidable this season and start laying the groundwork for future South success after Bertoli and Stohler graduate.
On a down note, Walsh said that past pole-vault standout Will Howard, a senior, moved with his family since last season and now attends Evansville Harrison.
Overall, the Braves have 45 athletes on their roster, with only 17 being returnees from last season.
“There will be a lot of new faces out there,” Walsh admitted. “We’ve got some upperclassmen doing track for the first time.”
Despite a relative lack of experience, Walsh thinks South will be able to compete with most of its opponents.
“We are having as much fun as we’ve had in my time at South,” he added. “We’ve combined coaching staffs with boys and girls. Felisha Johnson is quite an addition to our staff. The atmosphere for the boys and girls here is great.”
• West Vigo — The longest-tenured track coach in Vigo County, Bill Petscher is happy to be starting his 33th season in charge of the West Vigo boys.
Names he rattled off are seniors Sam Bowden (sprints), Tyson Tolerson (middle-distance running) and Blake Benefiel (middle distance); juniors Jonah Eckert (distance), Austin Romanelly (middle distance), Davin Donnelly (distance) and Logan Thralls (sprints and pole vault); and sophomores Jacob Weir (middle distance and hurdles) and Douglas Wilkins (hurdles).
Among the Vikings’ key newcomers are junior Ryan Hackett (throws), sophomore Josh Beasley (throws) and sophomore Luke Bigger (throws), plus they have freshmen Brady Page (distance), Brian Becker (distance and pole vault), Tyler Kernstein (sprints), Lane Burke (sprints and high jump) and Clayton Noblett (sprints).
“We’ve got a whole new crew in just about everything but distance,” Petscher said. “We’re young and inexperienced, but fun to work with. I’ll expect them to improve throughout the year.”