With a solid core of returning state qualifiers on Marion’s track and field team, coach Grant Thierolf has high expectations for the Warriors this season, his 24th at the helm.
The Marion boys hope to defend last year’s Heart of America league championship and improve on a second-place finish at the regional meet.
Key to that end will be their returning state qualifiers.
Thierolf will look to senior Jordan Hett—who earned fifth-place finishes at state last year in both the 1,600 and 3,200—for leadership.
“Jordan Hett has been a great performer for us in both cross country, basketball and track,” Thierolf said. “You know his body really never gets time off, but we’re going to just expect a lot out of him.
“He’s going to have to lead us again this year, and hopefully he’ll do that.”
Three members of the 4×400 relay that earned seventh at state also return: seniors Patrick McCarty and Brody Carroll and junior James Jones.
“Pat’s done a great job for us for four years,” Thierolf said. “He’s going to come back and run the 800 for us a little bit this year and a relay, and I think he’s ready for a good senior year to finish things off.”
Thierolf said he is also pleased with the way Carroll is performing, adding that he will compete in relays and jumps.
“I think he’s ready to go out on top in track and see what he can do, and he wants to get back on that state podium like he did last year,” he said. “He’s just a great kid—great competitor for us, and I just love coaching him.”
Jones also qualified for state in long jump and holds the school record of 22 feet, 41⁄2, inches.
“James is as good an athlete as we’ve ever coached here,” Thierolf said. “He does a great job. He needs to get more confident in what he’s doing, but his best days are ahead of him once he gets everything put together. We’re looking forward to great things from James.”
Sophomore Tyler Neufeld may step in to fill the fourth spot in some relays.
“He did a nice job last year, ran really well,” Thierolf said. “It was a great surprise for us at the end of the year.”
Senior Spencer Fugitt returns as a state qualifier in discus and javelin, and junior Nick Meyer in shot put, to anchor the throwing program.
“Rex (Wilson) has never had this much fun in his life as a discus coach,” Thierolf said. “He’s got four or five discus throwers out there, who, every meet we go to, will be the four or five best discus throwers there.
“It’s going to be a heck of a competition every day in practice to see who goes in our throws because we’re four or five deep in all three of them, and that’s a nice problem to have as a coach.”
Providing that depth will be juniors Morgan Wheeler, Clint Kroupa and John Nordquist and sophomore Kyle Palic.
Theirolf expects sophomore Adam Janzen to perform well in the javelin.
“We just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen,” he said.
Senior Zach Hammond is expected to contribute in the pole vault.
Overall, Thierolf said the strength of the boys’ team lies—as it has in the past—in the field events, but he has seen improvement in the running events this year.
“We’ve got some depth,” he said. “We’re still going to be a little short in the sprints, but we have kids who will work hard.
“The hurdles will be an ongoing thing where we’ll develop some hurdlers through the course of the year.”
With more depth on the roster this year, Thierolf expects the Marion girls to be much improved.
The Warriors placed third in the Heart of America League last year and return most of their athletes.
“I look for our girls to be much more competitive in the league,” Thierolf said.
Leading the way will be junior Alicia Maloney, who earned second in pole vault at state last year.
“(Alicia) did a great job at state, really progressed well as the season went along, and we just look for great things from her,” Thierolf said. “She’s kept working on the pole vault during the off-season, and it should be exciting.”
Another state qualifier, senior Corey Shields, is expected to contribute in shot put.
Thierolf said he expects all juniors and seniors to contribute—for both the girls and the boys—and listed these juniors on the girls’ roster: Kaelyn Thierolf in the 3,200, Katey Ehrlich in the 300 hurdles and Kelli Hess in pole vault.
Ehrlich and Hess will compete in the jumps, and Hess will also compete in some running events.
Thierolf also expects good things from his freshmen.
“We have a very large and talented freshman class of girls that we think can be a special group of track and field athletes,” he said.
McKenzee Remmers will aid the team in the distance runs.
Thierolf added: “Marshelle Mermis has a chance to be as good as anybody we’ve coached here. Emily Schneider looks good, Kirsten Hansen looks good. We’re real thrilled with our freshmen class of girls, so it’s going to be fun.”
Even with added depth, numbers may still be a challenge for the girls this season.
“I think every girls’ program probably has depth as a problem,” Thierolf said. “We just don’t have as many girls out as we do the guys.”
Thierolf said he has great expectations for the Warriors this season.
“As always, we will be very strong in the field events and in the distance areas,” he said. “I believe we can put three good relays together on both the boys’ and girls’ sides and have a great deal of fun with that.”
He expects an all-around enjoyable season.
“Kids are working hard,” Thierolf said. “It’s a great group of kids who want to be here, and that makes it a lot of fun.”
Thierolf’s goal this season?
“Our goal is—since we’re a (grade) 7-12 program—is to win six league championships,” he said. “So that’s what we’re setting our sights on, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The Warriors are scheduled to open competition at home April 2 with Berean Academy designated as the host school for a five-team Central Kansas Track League meet.
The CKTL is an affiliation of 20 area schools that cooperate for several four- or five-team track meets early in the season.