Hillsboro will build its track fortunes this season on a foundation of six returning state qualifiers and some young talent coming into the program.
Heading that list of state qualifiers is Callie Serene, the defending Class 3A 800-meters bronze medalist and the only Trojan girl to make it to Wichita last season.
“Callie is still developing her speed and strength,” coach Dennis Boldt said. “I look for good things from Callie.”
Serene could have some female companionship at state this season. Freshman Emily Sechrist joins the track squad as the Class 3A state champion in cross country.
Classmate Karen Leihy, a middle-school record-holder in distance running, broke the girls’ high school record in the first cross-county race of the season before Sechrist took charge.
A third freshman, Tara Proffitt, ran on a regional 4×800 team at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics this summer.
In addition to what the four runners might do individually, Boldt has his eye on what they might accomplish together.
“I think they have their sights on maybe entertaining a 4×800 and a 4×400,” he said. “I think there’s talent there that could achieve great things.”
As the season progresses, Sechrist and Leihy will compete individually in the 1,600 or 3,200—or perhaps even both—while Proffitt, more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner, is more likely to opt for shorter distances.
Potential aside, Boldt said he is careful to develop youth athletes with a broader view.
“We’re working on having them for four years as athletes, not just cashing in (in the short term),” he said. “We want to be careful with that, and I think we’ve had success at that.”
In addition to his core of distance and middle-distance runners, Boldt returns two athletes who fell short of state, but placed in regional competition.
Junior Ashley Bartel placed fifth in the pole vault by clearing 7 feet, 6 inches, and senior Kiara Espada placed sixth in shot put with a throw of 32-31?2.
“We forget how difficult it is to qualify for state,” Boldt said. “By just placing at regionals, we look for good things from these ladies.”
The Trojans have 25 girls out for track this season, and they have diversified interests.
“We cover all events, literally,” Boldt said. “I think our high quality is middle distance and distance runners, but we have some depth in the sprinters and jumpers, too.”
For the boys, junior Shaq Thiessen claimed third place in long jump at state last season, and has the potential to be a top competitor in several events this season.
“Shaq’s a kid who can do multi events,” Boldt said. “He’s a long jumper, he’s a high jumper, he’s expressed interest in triple jumping this year, and of course he has great speed.”
Boldt can envision a quality 4×100 team that would include Thiessen, fellow juniors Mitchell Day and Tyler Proffitt and sophomore Avery Franz.
Franz and Proffitt, who were alternates on Hillsboro’s state-qualifying 4×800 team in 2011, are strong candidates to step into the lineup in 2012 to complement returning members Bret Mueller and Josh Richert, both seniors. Another contender for a spot on the 4×800 is freshman Grant Knoll.
Proffitt and Franz also have skills in other events. Proffitt placed sixth at regionals in pole vault, while Boldt calls Franz an “outstanding” triple and long jumper.
Another athlete who could make an impact this year is sophomore Jesse Brown, who returns from last year’s 4×100 team and competed well in high jump.
“Jesse is an excellent high jumper who just needs to work on his consistency,” Boldt said.
With 22 boys out for the team, Boldt said, “I think we cover a lot of events well. I think we have kids who can score in literally every event for the boys.
“We’ll probably be leaning on jumpers, and we have a pretty good throwing group with Aaron Slater and Josh Siebert, two seniors we’re excited about in the shot and discus.”
What kind of impact Hillsboro can make at the Central Kansas League meet and beyond remains to be seen. The girls tied for ninth last year at league and the boys tied for sixth.
“I see the boys finishing middle of the road again,” Boldt said. “We’ve definitely got some high finishes, but I don’t know that we have the depth to get 100 points. We have the depth to get 70, but not 100.
“For the girls, I look for a move up for us,” he added. “We definitely have the depth that we could finish with many first places and get 10 points for each.
“I think our girls can finish in the top third. When you have the impact of some distance runners, and score maybe 30 more points than we did last year, all of a sudden that puts us in fourth or fifth place, based on last year.”
Boldt believes he has several potential state entries this year, but nothing can be taken for granted.
“One thing we know about state, you know you have to qualify to get there,” he said. “Out of 47 athletes, you feel great if you take 10.”
Boldt will be assisted in high school and middle school track again this year by five assistants: Nathan Hiebert, high jump and javelin; Donya Anderson Hilliard, long jump and triple jump; Mike Jilka, sprints and hurdles, and Len Coryea, shot put and discus. Jeff Haslett, a newcomer, will focus on pole vault and jumps.
Hillsboro will open its season April 3 at Haven for a Central Kansas Track League meet. The CKTL is an affiliation of 20 area schools that cooperate for several four- or five-team track meets each year.