The Highland High School girls track and field team lost two historic athletes to graduation last spring in Lena Giger and Emily Holtzclaw, but coach Erin Cotto is optimistic that this year’s squad has the talent to be able to recover some of those points lost from their departure.
While the team could struggle in the throwing events after the departure of the three-time defending Class 2A state champion Giger, Cotto said one way in which the team can make up some of those points is through the distance runners, despite the loss of Holtzclaw, a three-time state qualifier who helped the 4 x 800-meter relay team nab seventh-place medals last spring.
Cotto said the strength of the team is the distance/mid-distance crew. They have come into the season ready to compete. Most of them have run over the winter and have logged plenty of miles.
Senior Jayden Shelton has become a stronger runner and a competitive force in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs. Both Shelton and sophomore Sarah Beth Wiegman, who made up half of the medal-earning 4 x 800 last year, spent their winter logging mileage and training for the upcoming spring season.
“Shelton looked good at the Jacksonville Invite in both the 4 x 800-meter relay and the 1,600,” Cotto said. “Freshman Rece Portell is a great asset to the distance crew as well. She is going to be a huge addition to the 4 x 800 team. I think she will give us impressive times in our mid-distance races. Despite her injury, (junior) Allison (Zobrist) is on the road to recovery, and I am hopeful we can get some races out of her from mid-season to postseason.”
Cotto said she would like to see the 4 x 800 team repeat their state run this year with the freshman Portell taking Holtzclaw’s place in the event.
“I think Portell is going to be a huge contender in the 800 and will be a great addition to the 4 x 400 relay.” Cotto said. “I’d like to see Jayden to continue to bring her 1,600 times down throughout the season.
Joining Shelton and Wiegman as key returners and point earners are seniors Bailey Leitschuh and Megan Hundsdorfer.
Leitschuh has become a state contender in the triple jump after garnering the ninth-place medal in the event last spring.
“I’d like Bailey to continue to work on her jumping technique in the triple jump, so I believe she will continue to improve in that event, and also in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes,” Cotto said.
Hundsdorfer improved dramatically in the hurdle events a year ago and has been working on her form so she will continue to get faster.
Many of the team’s other distance runners, such as Sydney Nyquist, Sarah Jansen and Courtney Hengehold, have also spent their winters training for the outdoor track season.
A couple of other mid-distance runners who are also capable to post faster times are Mireille Beaubien and Lyndi Stone, if junior standout Allison Zobrist is not able to compete.
Other sprinters besides Leitschuh are Brianna Becherer, Amy Sutterfield, Taylor Braswell, Jenna Foster and Ariel Smock, who all have worked extremely hard in the preseason.
Smock has shown a lot of promise in the triple jump while Jessica Andrews is a junior returnee,who will be an asset to the sprint relays.
Some of the newer runners the team has this year include Tori Netzer, Melanie Wick, Emma Moos, Emma Drsydale, Alyssa Freimann and Brenna Mass.
“I am looking forward to seeing them run this season,” Cotto said.
Cotto admitted that the throwing events, shot put and discus, are an area the team is now lacking in. With Giger gone, not only did the team lose points, but they also lost a coach as well.
“Throws is one area I need to study up on as well,” coach Cotto said.
Coach Cotto and assistant coach Tyler Weis’ main goal is for the team to compete to the best of their abilities at every meet and to enjoy themselves while they do it.
“We work hard during practice so we want to see that same effort during meets,” Cotto said. “I don’t doubt I will see it either. Of course, the ultimate goal is getting as many girls into the postseason as possible. We brought home medals last year and I want to see that again this year.”