Considering the talent that his team has returned, 19th-year Big Walnut High School girls track and field coach Joe Evener has high expectations this season.
"I have a wonderful senior class that's laden with talent," he said. "On top of that, I have some quality juniors and sophomores ready to back them up."
Heading the list of returnees is junior Olivia Small, who placed second in the long jump (17 feet, 6 3/4 inches) in the Division I state meet last season at Ohio State, behind Chesterland West Geauga's Chantel Richardson (18-3).
Big Walnut's only state qualifier a year ago, Small scored eight points for the Golden Eagles, who tied four teams for 28th behind champion Reynoldsburg (56) as 72 teams scored.
In the indoor state meet March 16 at the University of Akron, Small won the long jump (18-8 1/4) and triple jump (37-3).
"For the team, it's very nice to go into meets with almost guaranteed points," Evener said. "It adds confidence. She's also a very talented high-jumper and sprinter. She does a lot for us in different areas. We don't have to worry about those events."
Small qualified for state in the long jump last spring by placing third (17-4 1/4) in the regional meet at Pickerington North.
Also competing at regional last year were senior Jordan Lyle in the pole vault (program-record 10-0, fifth), sophomore Avery Kerns in the high jump (5-0, ninth), senior Laylaa Crawford in the discus (fouled all three attempts), the 400-meter relay of 2012 graduates Callie Carioti and Brea Medlock, junior Jamie Annis and Small (50.03 seconds, 11th) and the 800 relay of Carioti, Annis, Small and Medlock (1:45.04, ninth).
The top four finishers in each regional event advanced to state.
With the return of Small, Crawford, Kerns and Lyle, Evener believes the field events are his team's biggest strength.
"It's the strongest it's been in the last five or six years," he said. "The field is pretty loaded right now."
Other returnees include seniors Olivia Beckett (throws), Bethany Bogantz (middle distance/distance), Asia Medlock (middle distance/sprints) and Leah Thomas (sprints/long jump), juniors Catie Craig-Bowden (middle distance/distance), Olivia Daggett (sprints), Amber Shaheen (hurdles) and Kayla Walaszek (throws) and sophomores Samantha Godby (sprints), Makenna Hemming (middle distance/distance), Alayna Small (hurdles) and Mikaela Smith (middle distance).
Last season, Big Walnut scored 10 points at regional to finish 20th behind champion Reynoldsburg (77) as 43 teams scored and finished fifth (51) in the 17-team district 2 meet at Hilliard Darby behind champion Hilliard Davidson (101.5).
At district, Small won the long jump (17-9 3/4) and Kerns won the high jump (5-2).
The Golden Eagles finished fourth (84) in the OCC-Capital Division meet last year, behind New Albany (161.5), Watkins Memorial (109) and Hilliard Bradley (85.25) and ahead of Olentangy Orange (76.75), Franklin Heights (61), Delaware Hayes (44) and Mount Vernon (40.5).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Olentangy joined the OCC-Capital and Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal.
The boys team is in a rebuilding phase.
"It's going to be a big learning year for us," sixth-year coach Eric Myers said. "We've got a lot of youth on the team. We had a lot of question marks coming into the season, but so far the kids have been competitive."
Among the key returnees are sophomores Bobby Bogantz (distance), Christian Johnson (sprints) and Cole Stark (hurdles/high jump).
"We've looked to them right off the bat," Myers said. "They're doing a nice job for us."
Other returnees include seniors Cameron Ahmed (distance), A.J. Barber (middle distance), Jimmy Glaze (distance), Gabe Kitchen (sprints), Kevin Rankin (hurdles/high jump) and Anthony Roberto (pole vault), juniors Logan Perry (middle distance), Kaden Thompson (pole vault) and sophomores Jon Kahrmann (middle distance) and Tyler Martin (sprints).
Last season, Big Walnut failed to have any state qualifiers for the first time since 2007.
"You'd obviously like to get kids back to the state meet," Myers said. "But that's no easy task in central Ohio."
Both of Big Walnut's Division I regional qualifiers a year ago graduated in Josh Annis and Trent Fielding. Annis finished 13th in the 800 (1:58.93) and Fielding finished 16th in the shot put (43-2 1/2).
The Golden Eagles did not score at regional and finished eighth (26) in the 16-team district 1 meet at Darby behind champion Davidson (104). They placed sixth (53.5) in the OCC-Capital meet, behind New Albany (186), Bradley (117.5), Watkins Memorial (117), Orange (69) and Mount Vernon (54) and ahead of Franklin Heights (43) and Delaware (22).
Big Walnut opened April 2 with a dual meet against Westerville Central, with the girls team winning 78-57 and the boys losing 80-57. In the Newark Invitational on April 6, the girls finished third (75) behind champion Central (114.5) as 14 teams scored and the boys finished sixth (53) behind champion Independence (80) as 16 teams scored.
Big Walnut's dual meet against Olentangy on April 10 was canceled because of bad weather.
Boys lacrosse team continues growth
The boys lacrosse team has improved steadily since the program began in 2007.
Big Walnut went 0-9 in its inaugural season and finished 2-10 in 2008, 5-8 in 2009, 5-9 in 2010 and 6-9 in 2011 before finishing 8-7 overall last year.
"We're still at a point where we're at the end of our infancy," fifth-year coach Nate Dewey said. "But the natural skill-set is starting to come in."
Big Walnut opened with a 16-10 loss to Darby on April 1 before beating Marysville 14-10 on April 9. The Golden Eagles opened OCC-Central play April 12 at Westerville South.
"We're sitting on probably the best offensive group we've ever had, which is new to us," Dewey said. "We've always been a defense-first kind of team. We're in a new position to push the ball and score some goals."
Through two games, senior midfielder Trevor Severs led the team in scoring with eight goals and one assist. Junior midfielder Jhordan Lang had six goals and one assist and senior midfielder Parker Marsch had five goals and an assist.
Other key returnees are seniors Caleb Brown (defender), Matt Heiden (defender), Blake Heyder (long-stick midfielder), Jarrod Norton (attacker) and Kyle Saunders (midfielder) and junior Carter Marsch (midfielder).
Last season, Severs had 17 goals and a team-high 16 assists and was first-team all-region and second-team all-league and Lang had 16 goals. Parker Marsch had 14 goals and was honorable mention all-league and coaches recognition all-region and Carter Marsch had 11 goals. Norton had two goals and seven assists.
Also on the team are senior Hudson Denton (defender), junior Brandon Hagerman (defender) and sophomores Aaron Brown (attacker), Matt Curtin (midfielder), Ian Kirkendall (goalkeeper) and Michael Nash (attacker).
Last season, the Golden Eagles lost to Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 8-7 in overtime in the first round of the OHSLA club division tournament and went 2-4 in the OCC-Central to tie Pickerington North for fourth, behind Delaware (5-1), Pickerington Central (5-1) and Westerville Central (5-1) and ahead of Westerville North (1-5) and Westerville South (1-5). Westerville Central and Pickerington Central shared the league title without Delaware as the Pacers used ineligible players.