With the lowest number of returning state qualifiers in recent years, and a roster almost half composed of freshmen, the Hillsboro track-and-field program will be focusing more on individual improvement than team titles this season.
?Honestly, as we come out we?re an experience-young track and field team,? said Dennis Boldt, who has collected five state titles during his 19 years at the helm. ?My expectations are to get better every single meet?that?s true no matter how good our athletes are.?
Boldt has 33 athletes out this year, an increase of six from last year, thanks to a freshmen class of 15.
Heading the list for the girls are Dakota Kaufman, the lone senior, who placed second in triple jump and third in long jump at state, and sophomore Callie Serene, who qualified for state in the 800 meters.
Hayley Pankratz, the lone junior, is a first-year competitor in distance running. The team also includes three other sophomores and nine freshmen.
?They?re a good looking group and I?m pretty satisfied they?re going to put together some relays for us,? Boldt said of his freshmen.
For the boys, senior Nathan Vogel is the lone state qualifier coming back. He competed in the 400 meters and was a member of the 4×400 and 4×800 teams that placed third at Wichita.
Boldt anticipates team points from two other seniors, Mason McCarty in the jumps and Matt Richert in the distance races.
Two juniors who are new to the program this year should contribute.
Joel Allen transferred in this fall from Minnesota, where he was part of a state-qualifying cross-country team. He will run distance and middle distance this spring.
?We want to find Joel?s niche here,? Boldt said. ?I see him making an impact right away.?
The other newcomer is Ben Bebermeyer, who played baseball last year for HHS.
?I think he will be a good long jumper and may want to try both (long jump and triple jump),? Boldt said.
The Trojan coach likes the speed he sees in freshmen Mitchell Day, Tyler Proffitt, Shaq Thiessen and Tyrel Thiessen. But he knows it can be challenging to throw freshmen boys into varsity competition right away.
?We want them to compete in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable,? Boldt said. ?Sometimes it?s a little intimidating (to compete in varsity meets). But if we can get through the first year, remind them that they?re a developing young athlete and give them some confidence, hopefully we can see them develop.?
Boldt is expecting his team to have most of its success in the small Central Kansas Track League quadrangulars rather than the large invitationals.
?The big meets generally take big points,? he said, adding that even a few top performers could boost a team into the top 10.
Boldt said if his athletes can reach the goal of improving with each meet, he feels they can make an impact later in the year.
?I hope by the time we come to league, we can compete for some medals in individual events and relays,? Boldt said. ?I hope to be somewhere in the middle (of the pack) and surprise some people in some events this year.?
One season highlight has been the privilege of training in one of the premier track-and-field complexes in the state, the newly completed Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
?We?re certainly going to enjoy our new facility,? Boldt said. ?We?ve already gotten more practice time in for our jumps (three practices into the season) than we did in the first three weeks last year because of wet weather. We warm up on the turf now?it?s low impact on the legs.
?The kids are just excited,? he added. ?But the other thing I tell them is that just because we have a good facility doesn?t mean we?ll automatically set the world on fire. There have been many a state champion who did not compete on a great facility, including us.?
But the Trojans have one now.
?We are a little bit spoiled and we want to use it as an advantage to build our program,? Boldt said. ?I think our kids are going to be better trained this year because they can run more days.?
Thanks to the new stadium, the James Thomas Invitational will be a true home meet this season after being at Bethel College the past two years.
The meet is planned for April 30 and could proceed rain or shine, Boldt said, as long as the weather isn?t severe.
Hillsboro opens its competitive season April 6 with a CKTL meet at Fairfield, beginning at 4:30 p.m.