Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The Blair Oaks track and field team’s season begins today, a week later than usual, but the coaches are already excited for what the end of the season will bring.
Because of a scheduling conflict, the teams were unable to begin their season at Russellville last weekend. The Falcons compete in the Tri-County Open Meet at 4 p.m. today.
“So we get an extra week of training in there, which is sometimes bad, because the kids get tired of practicing for four weeks straight,” boys coach Nathan Holtmeyer said. “But the kids have been really focused, and they’ve been pushing through really good, so I’m excited to see what they do (today).”
Holtmeyer thinks his Falcons could be poised for a big season a year after injury problems hindered Blair Oaks in postseason competition.
“We were getting first place in almost every meet we went into,” he said. “We won districts for the first time since, I believe, 2003, and then we had some key injuries by a lot of our kids last year. That just kind of really killed us going into sectionals and state, so getting those seniors back and stuff, I really believe that we’re going to be competitive — not only at all our meets, but to get competitive at the state level.”
Dominic Jamerson, who strained a hamstring and missed state competition, and Chase Duren, who struggled with injuries his freshman and junior seasons, are two members of a large senior class Holtmeyer expects to lead the way.
“Morale is really high,” Holtmeyer said. “Seniors are leading by example, and that’s what we really look for. We just are really excited to actually get out there and start competing rather than just practicing.”
Jamerson would have competed in three events at the state level last year, and Duren was all-state in three events his sophomore year. Holtmeyer has big expectations for sprinters Cole Bisges and Peyton Wilde, as well as distance runners Jason Otto and Nick Yaeger, who has a 1,600-meter run district championship to his name. The biggest hole left by last year’s senior class is that of John Karsten, a two-time state runner-up in the discus.
“He was like having a second coach over there,” Holtmeyer said. “Big loss right there.”
On the girls side, the Lady Falcons boast their biggest team ever with nearly 50 girls, including 17 freshmen.
“We’ve had some years where our entire team has 17 people,” Lady Falcons coach Marc Keys said.
Keys said the first few meets of the year will be helpful to discern just how much talent is hiding in the large freshman class — especially because first-year competitors can really come in and make an impact on the girls side.
“Sometimes some kids are better in competition than they are in practice, especially when they’re younger,” he said. “You don’t really know what it’s all about. You just sort of do enough in practice so you don’t stand out as a freshman. Sometimes you don’t want to be at the beginning of the training group or the end, you’re just feeling it out, and you don’t want to irritate anyone. You don’t want to get yelled at by the coach, but you don’t want to get yelled at by the seniors because you’re running too fast, so still feeling that out.”
Keys believes there is plenty of talent among the upper-classmen as well. Jolie Duffner, who competes in the 400-meter dash, throwers Veronica Wiebold, Robyn Schroeder and Jackie Null, pole vaulter Holly Wolken and sprinter Abby Eskins, who is coming off an injury-plagued season, will be some key competitors for the Lady Falcons this season. Keys also expects distance running to be a strength for Blair Oaks.
“Once again, not knowing freshmen that come in at the girls level, I would predict us to do very well at the district” level, Keys said. “My expectations would be district champs on the girls side, until I find out something different.”
Blair Oaks’ district setup changed this season with the expansion to five classes for track and field. The Falcons remain in Class 3, but District 5 has shrunk from 15 to 12 schools, and Blair Oaks now has fewer schools with larger enrollments to compete against.
“Last year, the top of our class was almost 1,100 students. This year, it will be closer to 600,” Keys said. “So that makes a big difference, and I think knowing that, you’re a little more positive about — not that you have a fatalistic attitude, but just knowing the bigger pictures and numbers do make a difference, it’s good to be in the middle of the classification as opposed to the bottom.”
Holtmeyer added: “That chops that whole top third off, so we’re going to be closer to the middle to the upper half, and so we definitely feel like we’re going to be able to compete at that higher level.”