HHS: Enough talent returning to make another run?

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
This spring, Hillsboro track coach Dennis Boldt will be without four state qualifiers-including a double gold-medal winner and a bronze-medal winner-from his boys’ 2001 Class 3A state championship team.

But don’t weep for him just yet.

The good news is that four state qualifiers return for the boys and six qualifiers return for the girls in 2002.

Gone for the boys are Ryan Jilka, who swept both hurdle events at state, Garrett Call, who placed third in the 800 and qualified in the 1,600 meters, Scott Winter, who qualified in three throwing events, and Adam Jilka, who was part of the 4×800 relay team.

But coming back for the Trojans are Alan Yoder, the defending state champion in the long jump, Aaron Yoder and Pete Richert, who placed third and 11th, respectively, in the 1,600 meters, Danny Yoder, who teamed with Adam Jilka, Call and brother Aaron on the fourth-place 4×800 team, and Sheldon Funk, who qualified in the pole vault.

And that’s not the only reason Boldt is excited about this year’s team.

“Probably the most exciting thing is we’ve got some kids who didn’t come out of that very tough regional who are back,” he said.

“Two key ones who come to mind are Ross Duerksen and Phillip Terrell, our sprinters. When you combine them with some young kids-Tyler Peachey, Brodie Unrau and Derek Mayfield, who are really becoming physically mature now-we’re really excited.”

Even with so many talented athletes returning, Boldt knows the 2002 boys’ team won’t be as dominant as last season’s.

“I don’t think we’re going to be scoring 150 points in a meet, but there’s no reason, with the qualifying kids we have, that we won’t be among the top three of those big meets,” he said.

Boldt will officially open practice on Thursday, but 29 boys have indicated their intention to compete this season.

He expects his team to be competitive on the track, but the biggest question mark will be in the field, particularly throwing events.

“We’ll probably really feel the loss of Scott, because there’s three throwing events (in which Hillsboro consistently scored points),” Boldt said. “We do have some kids who will try to take his place, but throwing events take time (to master). It will be hard to replace Scott’s points in the meets.”

With consistently strong showings in the long jump, sprints and 4×100 relay, Alan Yoder was last season’s top scorer with 2381/2 points as a sophomore. The speedster set school records in the 100, 200 and the 4×100, the latter with teammates Terrell, Duerksen and Ryan Jilka.

Two key returnees in the distance and middle distance races are Aaron Yoder and Richert. As a freshman, Yoder set the school record in the 1,600 meters and was the team’s third-leading scorer with 1641/2 points. Richert, a senior this year, scored 961/2 points.

Boldt feels both runners have a chance to break school records in the 1,600 and 3,200.

As a team, the Trojan boys set 10 school records last season. With several record-setters returning, Boldt said several could be in jeopardy again this spring if conditions are right.

Boldt said his boys’ team, based on the sheer numbers of strong athletes, will be favored to repeat as league champions. What happens after that, though, is too precarious to predict.

“Even last year going into state, people were confident we’d do well and I knew we’d do well, but you just can’t count points,” he said. “We definitely have kids who can return, but they’d all have to have a good day (to challenge for the state title).

“We didn’t have a very good day at state last year and we still won,” he said. “This year, that won’t be the case at all. We’ll really have to do well at state. We’ll have to be scoring other points that we missed last year.”

The girls’ team, meanwhile, returns all but one of its state qualifiers. Julie Hett was the only senior qualifier last season-but her graduation is no small loss, according to Boldt.

“She was about on every relay team we had,” he said. “Without her, those teams wouldn’t have done as well, that’s for sure.”

Heading the list of returnees is senior Shannon Kroeker, who placed ninth at state in the 800 meters, third in the 4×800, tied her school record in the high jump, and was the Trojans’ leading scorer for the season with 1213/4 points.

Right on her heels is classmate Andrea Peachey, the school record holder and state qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles, and the team’s second-highest scorer with 170 points.

The other returning state qualifiers are Trista Hanley in the shot put, Alisa Jost and Katie Fast, who joined Hett and Kroeker on the 4×800 team, and Jessica Boese, who joined Hett, Kroeker and Jost on the 4×400 team.

“When you include Jenna Jost, who’s been on relays and been a sprinter for us, scoring points for years-you throw those girls together and you’re going to score a lot of points in those big meets,” Boldt said.

Also among the key returnees are Cheryl Prieb, the school-record holder in the pole vault, and sprinter and long jumper Elise Matz.

While the boys attracted a lot of attention last season, the girls’ team was competitive, too.

“They got overshadowed last year, but they scored first, second or third in most of their meets last year,” Boldt said. “We lose only one major point scorer, that’s Julie Hett. We do need to replace her.”

On this year’s squad of 14 or 15 girls, the most likely replacement may be the team’s only freshman, Charity Davis, who will be strong in the sprints.

“There’s not a lot of girls out, but I’m pretty happy with the girls I have,” Boldt said. “There’s no question.

“The girls could fare very well in some of the big meets when you consider we’ve got some good point scorers,” he said.

The biggest challenge Boldt faces this season may be the condition of his home track at Tabor College. The outer lanes in the southeast corner are damaged and unsafe to run on, Boldt said.

The Hillsboro Middle School home meet, originally scheduled for March 28, will be held at Marion with the same starting time.

The high school isn’t scheduled to host a meet until April 23, when they will put on a quadrangular. Three days later, though, the newly named James Thomas Invitational is to be unveiled.

The track should be repaired by then-if the weather cooperates, Boldt said. If it doesn’t….

“They’re all threatened unless we get this fixed,” Boldt said.

The James Thomas Invitational, formerly known as the Trojan Invitational, was renamed in honor of the longtime HHS activities director who retired last spring.

“We want to honor Jim, who, for so many years, helped with track and field and was a track-and-field athlete,” Boldt said. “We want to honor him for all the work he’s done. And we invite him back to help us.”

Assisting Boldt this year as events coaches are Don Penner in the throwing events, Mike Jilka in the sprints, Corey Burton in the pole vault, Collette Burton in the sprints and triple jump, and Vaughn Jost in the high jump and long jump.

“All of these people have either competed at state or coached an athlete who has,” Boldt said. “We’ve got a great team of coaches.”

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