“In the beginning of the season, it’s about trying to figure out what they feel they can compete in,” said Hayford. “During the first two or three meets they might try a variety of events, because they have 11 different track events they can take part in, and seven or eight field events.”
Nearly half of the Wildcat team this year is made up of freshmen, many of whom began running track and field in middle school under the tutelage of coach Chris Brown. But now they are in the big leagues, and will need to once again find their niche in order to meet the Division III qualifying standards. Hayford expects three-sport athlete Skyler Boyd to perform field events including the long jump and high jump, while on the track working on short distance sprinting. Chad Bernard, on the other hand, will be part of a long-distance running crew, and may be included on the 4x100-meter relay. Caitlin Hunt, a speedy basketball and soccer player, will compete in both track and field including the 4x100 relay, short distance running, and the long jump. Coach Hayford said Hunt may have to work on finding the right event to match her speed.
Joining her fellow freshmen on the team is Karlee Walkowiak, another speedster whom Hayford expects to compete in sprints and possibly the relay, as well as jumping events in the field. Kyla Lavoy has been working on the long jump in practice, and may end up competing in hurdles and sprinting events. Rounding out the freshmen is Dylan Florence, who will be a short-distance runner and compete in jumping events as well.
Hayford’s squad begins to fall into place as age and experience levels increase. Last year, as a freshman, sophomore Nick Nilsen worked on the high jump, and found success in short sprints, coming in 11th in the state in the 100-meter race. Nilsen was also part of the 4x100-relay team, which won fourth place at states.
Fellow sophomore Kirra Courchesne is someone Hayford sees as a possible member of his relay team, as well as a medium distance racer. Last year Courchesne came in seventh in the 800-meter race and ninth in the state in the 100-meter dash, showing she can run short sprints as well. Adding to her resume was her seventh-place finish in the long jump.
Maya Holschuh did not compete in the state tournament last year, but Hayford sees her as another possible candidate for the relay team, and definitely as a short distance runner. “Anything with short distance, she’s in,” said Hayford.
“Some of the older kids have a better idea of what they want to compete in, but from year to year they change unless they’re super successful in one event,” added Hayford. “Everyone seems to remain open to trying a variety of things.”
Two of those older kids are junior tracksters who have become well established in their events over the past two years. Oscar Smith was in the 4x100 last year, finished third in the state in the 300-meter hurdles, and fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Jacob Hicks has established himself in distance running, competing in the 800-meter, the 1,500-meter, and the 3,000-meter race, in which he placed 10th at the state finals. Mandolin Lucier joins her fellow juniors in short-distance running, particularly the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races.
The senior group this year has two veterans and two newcomers. Eli Park will continue running in the relay and the 100-meters, while competing in long jump and high jump. Hayford said he expects Park to branch off and try other events as well. Christiana Strysko joins Park as a veteran of the Wildcats relay teams, and will also run short distances including the 200- and 100-meter. Hayford said foreign exchange student Henriette Aas was an “interesting case” because she had never run track before, but he also said that leaves her possibilities wide open. As a member of the soccer team, Aas showed speed and athleticism, and Hayford said she could compete in the relay, hurdles, and use her running abilities in middle-distance events. Jade Waters will join her fellow seniors running short sprints and relays, and competing in the long jump.
“It’s all about trying to beat your personal best,” said Hayford. “Were treating the first three meets as scrimmages since they have nine meets this year, and they’ll work hard to meet the qualifying standards for the state championships on June 6.” The qualifying standards are new this year for Division III track. For example, the standard for the boys 100-meter dash is 14.24 seconds or less. If a runner fails to finish in that time during the season they will not qualify. “That’s the main goal at each of the meets,” said Hayford. “Once they meet the standard for each event they can choose to work on those for states.”
While Hayford said his team is made up of talented athletes, it’s hard to judge how the season will pan out, because track is such an individual sport. “It’s so hard to take a guess at how they will be,” said Hayford. “They’re going to work hard, they’re going to have a lot of fun, and I just want them to have an enjoyable time with this great sport.”