Les Knutson

Daily Globe

LUVERNE - As the long winter finally winds down and spring looms ahead, high school track and field squads are anxious to get outside to stay, as the calendar turns to April next week.

Early-season outdoor meets are scheduled at Luverne (Tuesday), Mountain Lake (Thursday) and at Murray County Central (Slayton) on April 4.

As the season progresses, several area programs will participate in as many as 14 scheduled meets before sub-section competition takes place at Windom (Sub-Section 9) and Luverne (Sub-Section 10) on May 22.

This year’s Section 3A state-meet qualifying event will be at Redwood Falls on May 29. The state meet is again at Hamline University in St. Paul, June 6-7.

Organized practices were allowed to start in Minnesota on March 10, so most track and field athletes in the area have been practicing - mostly indoors - for the past three weeks.

Some teams, including perennial power Luverne, have already tasted competition at indoor meets.

“We had two indoor meets down at USD (the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.),” exclaimed veteran LHS head coach Craig Nelson. “We are especially excited about our prospects as a team this year.”

Last spring, the Cardinals - who year after year perform well in True Team competition - won section titles in both girls and boys, earning second at the girl’s state meet and finishing fifth in the standings of the boys’ state meet.

Later, the Luverne girls scored 89 points and qualified nine participants to the regular state meet after claiming the Section 3A title at Benson.

Murray County Central was second in the Section 3A boys’ meet with 72 points and the Rebels - paced by the trio of Jack Thony, Tanner Nepp and Tyler Scotting - racked up 40 points at the Minnesota State High School League’s season-ending meet and tied for second place.

Both Thony, who scored 22 points himself in the three sprints (second in the 100 meter dash, third in the 200 and sixth in the 400), and Nepp - the 2013 Class A state shot put champion - have graduated.

Scotting finished fourth in the state in the 300 meter intermediate hurdles last June and is back for his senior season, also expecting to compete in the sprints and throwing events.

The combination of Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Red Rock Central produced the area’s other state champion last year when versatile leaping Jeff DeCock soared an impressive 45 feet, nine inches to claim the gold medal in the triple jump at Hamline, putting the capper on an excellent career for the Chargers.

Jackson County Central’s Darnell Taylor-Breck (43-4) earned the bronze in the same event and returns to headline a quality cast of field event performers for the Huskies.

“Darnell is back as a triple jumper, long jumper and sprinter,” mentioned JCC head coach Rafiel York. “We return Jon Harmening, who is also a very good triple jumper and a fine hurdler. Then, we have Nolan Hohenstein, who has the potential to be a 50-foot plus shot putter.”

While the JCC girls lack those kind of quality performers in the field events, they are blessed with an abundance of numbers (close to 35), including a fine group of young runners - both sprinters and distance runners. The Huskies return all four members from a very fast 4x100 meter relay as Riley Schneekloth, Julia Schumann, Abby Schneekloth and Makenna Donnelli are all back and may be challenged by several other promising young sprinters.

At Adrian, distance runners Nicole Slater and Morgan Sauer are loaded with experience to lead the girls, while Dillon John (shot put, discus) and Taylor Recker (middle distance, high jump) are among the top Dragon boys.

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Senior leadership a key

for depth-filled Cardinals

Luverne returns 23 girl letter winners and 20 boys lettermen from last year’s fine squad and Nelson is optimistic that with senior distance runners Makayla Hohn and Anna Tofteland leading the girls and the senior trio of Drew Weis (distance), Cody Hess (distance) and Cody Rofshus (discus, shot put) pushing the boys in the right direction, the Cardinals will strive to succeed again this spring.

“We lost some outstanding seniors from last year’s teams,” Nelson said. “But we have lots of solid kids back, looking to improve. Our goals include getting back to the True Team State Championships and, hopefully, improving our team places from last year.”

Pipestone Area returns several top athletes, including high jumpers Collin Moeller (who competed in that event at the boys’ state meet last year) and Shantelle Des Marais, who placed third in the Section 3A girls’ meet, just missing a state trip in 2013).

Sophomore Maria Spanier placed eighth in the state last year in the girls’ 300-meter low hurdles and senior Tia Muller is an excellent hurdler who missed the 2013 campaign with a broken foot.

While WWG/RRC will not have DeCock to pile up points this spring, the Chargers do return a fine group of boys, including Levi Bunting (hurdles, sprints), Derek Christians (pole vault, sprints), Sean McCroskey (sprints), Tyson Berg (middle distance), Tanner Pederson (sprints), Matthew Benson (distance) and Andrew Benson (distance).

“We could have some respectable relay teams this season, on the boys’ side,” declared head coach Steve LeBoutillier.

Middle-distance runners Mady Johnson and Juliana Peterson, along with sprinters Melanie Kedl (high jump) and Alexa Byers (hurdles) are among W-WG/RRC’s top girls.

At Fulda, distance runners Sariah Cheadle and Melissa Gehl are among the leaders for the girls, while pole vaulter Alex Holmes (11-6 last year as a sophomore) and sprinter-middle distance runner Brian Fenske are outstanding prospects for the boys.

“We have a lot of boys in grades eight, nine and 10, who are going to have a lot of fun with track and field this season,” sums up long-time head coach Brad Holinka, who was a second-place finisher in the state meet in the discus throw as a high school athlete for Fulda in the 1970s and later utilized his all-around athleticism to perform in the 10-event decathlon while competing for Worthington Community College.

Windom’s girls have returning state-qualifying pole vaulter Amy Muller returning, along with state-qualifying cross country runner Christianna Green to lead their distance runners.

The boys have strength in the sprints --- despite the graduation loss of Michael Rivera, who placed eighth in the state meet last year in both the 100 and 200. The Okega brothers (Victor, Brown and Brian), along with thrower Tyler Morgan are among the leading Eagle boys.

Southwestern United returns Rachel Salentiny, MaKayla Edwards and Brianna Preston - each coming off strong cross country seasons - from its stellar 4x800 relay team, which placed fifth in the Section 3A girl’s race last season. Sprinter Zach Lynn leads the Wildcat boys.


MCC have large squads

Adequate numbers are a common theme at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Mountain Lake Area, Murray County Central and the combination of Southwest Christian and Edgerton. Each of those four programs have solid numbers in both boys and girls.

T-M-B has a total of 33 boys (7-12), including six - Matt Lavoy, Zach Seaton, Asa Nelson, Josh Kirk, Brett Swenhaugen and Hayden Sanders - who return as lettermen. Kirk and Swenhaugen are fine all-around sophomore athletes, who are each off to good starts. Kirk won the long jump at an indoor meet at USD March 22 and Swenhaugen placed second among a strong field of triple jumpers.

There are 35 girls on the Panthers’ roster, including 13 letter winners. Kendra Ludeman is an outstanding high jumper and triple jumper, while distance runners Cassandra Hook, Morgan Hoffbeck, Sarita Hook and Alyssa Hook are coming off good cross country seasons for T-M-B last fall.

Mountain Lake Area (which includes Mountain Lake Christian) won last year’s Class A Girls’ Division of the Trojan Relays and return a large squad with middle-distance runners Lydia Hildebrandt, Whitney Klassen, Mikayla Falk and Brianna Soutthivong all intact from an exceptional 4x400 relay team. Hannah Stoesz returns as the Red Rock Conference champion in the shot put.

The Wolverine boys also have lots of experience back, including state-qualifier Jose Gonzales (800) and conference champion 3,200 meter runner Slade Harder.

Defending Red Rock Conference girls’ team champion Southwest Christian/Edgerton graduated a trio of outstanding performers, as individual first-place finishers Kelly Tinklenberg (discus), Hannah Van Dyke (300 low hurdles) and Kara Homandberg (200) will no longer lead the Eagles. But experienced sprinters Devin Bloemendaal and Chantel Groen return, along with a depth-filled cast of upcoming young distance runners.

More than 20 boys are listed on the early SWC/E roster, including senior distance runner Evan Blom, who also ran cross country last fall for the Eagles. Austin LaFollette, a tremendous hurdler - conference champion in both races - graduated last spring after competing two seasons in the 300 intermediates at Hamline and also running the 110 highs there last year.

MCC’s boys return Scotting and will feature a solid corps of distance runners as Andy Garza (conference cross country champion), Clayton Hartle, Jack Erickson, Cole Bassett and Patrick Platt will score points for the Rebels, who have the potential to have an excellent 4x800 relay team.

Leading the MCC girls are senior veterans Paris Thomas and Hannah Schmidt, who have each enjoyed remarkable careers for the Rebels. Schmidt scored 33 points in last year’s conference meet (winning both the 100 and the long jump, finishing second in the 200 and placing fourth in the 400). Thomas has excelled in the hurdles, winning the conference in the 100 highs in 2013.

MCC, the defending boys’champions, will host the Red Rock Conference Meet May 15.