Even though a lack of depth could prevent his team from scoring high in meets, Groveport Madison High School boys track and field coach Jason Brooks has high expectations for the season.
"I feel strongly about this group," he said. "This is the most talented group I've had in my eight years as coach. I think we'll compete in multiple events at regional and state. This is going to be one of the best years in Groveport boys track and field."
Seniors Da'Marious Napier and Mecca Swain are expected to lead the Cruisers, who did not have any Division I state qualifiers last season.
At regional last year, Swain placed sixth in the 200 meters (22.73 seconds) and Napier finished ninth in the high jump (6 feet, 2 inches). In addition, both competed in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays.
They teamed with senior Kahlil Davis and 2013 graduate Ryan Robinette to place ninth in the 400 relay (44.11), combined with Robinette and senior Chris Robinson to finish ninth in the 1,600 relay (3:27.55) and teamed with 2013 graduate Eddie Wilson and Robinette to finish 11th in the 800 relay (1:33.46).
The top four finishers in every event at regional advanced to state.
"We've got some really good runners and we'll be specifically strong in sprints, sprint relays and jumps," Brooks said. "In addition to Swain, Napier and Davis, we've got a transfer from Indiana, (senior) Santiago Chandler, and a freshman, Josh Mills, who look very good.
"In the high jump, Napier tied for fourth (at regional) as a freshman and sophomore and lost jump-offs to go to state. He was ninth last year but looks terrific this year. He's bigger and stronger. Junior Chris Tabor will score in both jumps and junior Quynton Stills will be good in long jump."
Other key athletes include senior Cameron Oshodi and juniors Logan Dillon and Jordan Garrettson in the throws, Robinson and junior Cedric Roberson in the hurdles, junior Elgin Griffin and sophomores Tanner Grubb, T.J. Towns and Brennan Watson in the distance and middle-distance events, although Brooks said the Cruisers likely will not have any athletes competing in the 3,200 and pole vault this year.
"With our levy failure, we did not have cross country last season, so our distance kids are way behind," Brooks said. "You can't make that recovery in a short spring season after not having that training for a full year, but I will do what I can with them because I cross-train the boys and girls in distance and jumps.
"We've got four coaches for the boys and girls teams and we're all volunteers, not paid coaches. Our girls coach, Aaron Fenzel, oversees starts and middle distances. Ryan Alton coaches relays, sprints and hurdles and Scott Brinker coaches the throws."
As a result of a lack of busing and not being funded by the school district, the track teams are competing in fewer meets than usual this season.
"We've only got five events before the (OCC-Ohio Division meet May 15 and 17 at Thomas Worthington)," Brooks said. "The good news is that gives us more training time and more time to spend with the younger kids. We can really focus on practices and give the younger guys a chance to get ready for lineup challenges."
Groveport opened April 5, finishing third (46) in the 18-team Newark Invitational behind Westerville Central (98.5) and Canal Winchester (55.75).
The Cruisers will compete in the Stingel Invitational on Saturday, April 12, at Pickerington North and will play host to Northland in a dual meet Tuesday, April 15. After those two events, they aren't scheduled to compete again until the Olentangy Invitational on May 2.
Jones, Bumper among leaders for girls team
The girls track team has returned three Division I regional qualifiers in seniors Sharde Bumper and Atyauna Jones and sophomore Jaliyah Atkinson.
Groveport was represented at regional last year by two relays. The 400 relay of 2013 graduate Eva Jerkins, Jones, Bumper and Atkinson placed sixth (50.07) and the 800 relay of Jerkins, Jones, Atkinson and Lillie Brown-Walker finished seventh (1:45.13).
Brown-Walker did not return for her sophomore season.
"Those three (returning regional qualifiers) and (sophomore) Leah Monroe are back and will be our leaders," Fenzel said. "Our strength is in our sprinters. We have some great freshmen who will make their mark in time."
Fenzel is in his first season as coach after having served as an assistant under former coach Kelli DelGuzzo, who stepped down after last season to spend more time with her family, which includes two young sons.
Bumper, Jones and Atkinson are expected to lead Groveport in the sprint events, and Monroe is expected to lead the Cruisers in the middle-distance events and compete on the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
Other key athletes include Bumper, Jones and freshman Jarre Brooks in the long jump, freshmen Chanda Brown and Imani Johnson in the high jump, senior Hawa Seck in the throws, Brown, sophomore Fatima Seck and freshman Reonna Hairston-Mitchell in the hurdles and sophomores Daria Wansley and Airena Wilburn and freshmen Makayla Bridges and Cleopatria Steward in the middle-distance events.
Expected to provide depth in the sprint events are Bridges, Brooks, Johnson, Steward, Wansley and freshmen Kiosha Baker, Kyana Davis and Asia Peck.
Groveport opened April 5 by finishing eighth (35) in the 15-team Newark Invitational behind champion Westerville Central (92.83).