After losing two state champions and 10 state qualifiers to graduation, it would be natural to assume there would be a decrease in expectations, a learning curve, for a much younger Marion High School track team this season.
However, coach Grant Thierolf’s goals are the same as they are every season — win the regional competition and qualify as many athletes as possible for the state meet in Wichita.
“We’ve got some awfully talented young kids,” Thierolf said. “The young kids will just have to grow up pretty quick.”
One event where the Warriors bring back state experience is the pole vault. Seniors Dillon Richmond and Randy Regnier look to return to state. If his broken wrist heels in time, junior Colten Johnson will also pole vault for Marion.
“We don’t know when he’ll be back for pole vault,” Thierolf said. “He has a chance to be a very good pole vaulter.”
Sophomore Zach Hammond rounds out the squad. He will attempt to improve on a personal best of 10 feet, 6 inches.
“For a freshman, that is a very good vault,” Thierolf said.
The jumps team has been a strength for the Warriors the past several years. While replacing the production of four-year standouts like state champions Julia Zeiner and Tylor Neil should prove difficult, a group of young jumpers is preparing to fill those shoes.
Returning state high jump competitor, junior Whitney Gordon, should anchor a young squad.
“She’s going to be good,” Thierolf said.
Sophomore Patrick McCarty competed in the triple jump and long jump last season, but his team impact was felt more in distance running because of senior jumpers Neil and Drew Maddox.
Sophomore Erin Meierhoff competed in the triple jump and long jump last year and is looking to increase her team impact as a jumper.
Two relative unknowns also join the jumps team. Much like MHS graduate Brady Hudson last year, senior Jordan Versch will compete in the high jump with the track team for the first time since middle school.
A transfer student from Centre, junior Mikael Antoszyk, will long jump and triple jump for the Warriors.
“He’s an unknown,” Thierolf said. “We’re going to try him in everything. He’s a solid athlete.”
Two freshman jumpers will attempt to make an impact. Katey Ehrlich will compete in the triple jump. James Jones will jump in the triple jump and long jump.
“We think James Jones will be an outstanding jumper,” Thierolf said.
Jones saw playing time mostly on the junior varsity football and basketball teams the past two sports seasons. Thierolf said Jones is still maturing in those two sports, but is ready to compete in track because of his athleticism.
“He’s as good an athlete as we’ve had come in,” Thierolf said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
The throws team was the second most consistent area of excellence for the Warriors last season. It also lost talented seniors and returns one state competitor.
While his left wrist may be a problem in the pole vault, being his weak hand, Johnson will have no problem trying to return to state in the javelin.
After hitting the weights hard this winter, fellow javelin thrower Connor Thierolf will also compete in the shot put and discus this season.
Junior Dakin Ledford will also throw shot put and discus. Sophomores Spencer Fugit, Isaac Baldwin, and John Tacha will also compete in the shot put and discus.
A group of female throwers is primed to emerge and place for the Warriors in meets this season.
The group starts in the shot put and discus with sophomore Corey Shields.
“Corey Shields is just ready,” coach Thierolf said. “She always made the finals but would end up not placing. As a freshman, that’s not bad. Generally, upperclassmen dominate those events.”
Sophomore Alex Young will compete in the javelin and the shot put and sophomore Brandy Cross will compete in the shot put and discus.
“These are good young throwers,” Thierolf said.
Distance races should be a strong area for the Warriors this season.
Sophomore Jordan Hett qualified for state in the 3200-meter run and in the 4x800 relay last season.
“We have to remember that he’s just a sophomore,” Thierolf said. “He’s got to get stronger to compete for a place for a state championship.”
McCarty was also on the 4x800 relay team last season and could run the 800, 1600, or 3200 this season.
Michael Kirkpatrick and Jacob Cope also look to compete in the 1600 and 3200.
Meierhoff competed on the 4x800 state qualifying team last season. Her focus this year is to continue to improve in the 800.
The Warriors’ only other individual female distance runner is freshman Kaelyn Thierolf, who will compete in the 1600 and 3200.
Although the jump from middle school to varsity high school track team may prove to be a big leap, Thierolf dominated at the middle school level. All season she raced with male athletes and had no problem winning the 1600 and 3200.
The Warriors will also bring back experienced sprinters. Sophomore Sarah Eurit raced with the 4x100 relay team at the state tournament last season. Coach Thierolf has tapped her to compete in the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles this season.
“Sarah Eurit had a great winter,” Thierolf said. “She worked her tail off.”
Ehrlich will also compete in the 300 hurdles.
For male athletes, sophomores Brody Carroll and Eric Regnier will compete in the 300 hurdles.
“The 300 hurdles will be a good race for them,” Thierolf said.
Just like the expectations for the team, the caliber of competition the Warriors will face has not decreased in difficulty. The team is still traveling to large meets at Beloit, Halstead, and Hesston.
At Marion Relays April 8, the Warriors will face 5A schools El Dorado and McPherson and 3A powers Wichita Independent and Hutchinson Trinity.
“I think we compete in as competitive a 3A schedule as there is,” Thierolf said.
While the team’s youth is exciting, the Warriors will lean on experienced competitors like Richmond, Regnier, Johnson, Gordon, and Hett.
“Those guys will have to set the course for us,” Thierolf said.