Having lost only eight athletes from a year ago to graduation, the Big Walnut High School boys track and field team entered the season with high hopes and plenty of experience, despite remaining a youthful squad.
"We're young, and we have a lot of guys who did not have varsity experience," seventh-year coach Eric Myers said. "But coming into the year, we have 19 (letterwinners) returning. They obviously have more experience, and that's a positive for us right now."
The returning letterwinners are seniors John Lankford (sprints), Ben Muench (sprints), Logan Perry (middle distance), Michael Takatch (hurdles/pole vault), Austin Thomas (sprints) and Kaden Thompson (pole vault), juniors Bobby Bogantz (middle distance), Jared Boseker (pole vault), Michael Buckles (middle distance), Christian Johnson (sprints), Jon Kahrmann (middle distance), Tyler Martin (sprints), Joey Mazzi (sprints/hurdles), Joe Muench (middle distance/high jump), Anthony Pavuk (sprints/pole vault), Cole Stark (hurdles/jumps), Adrian Thomas (throws) and Jacob Thompson (middle distance) and sophomore Matt Brockway (sprints).
"We've (also) got some new guys this year who seem to be filling those shoes (of the 2013 graduates)," Myers said. "They've been stepping up and accepting that challenge."
Last season, Big Walnut had no Division I state qualifiers and only one regional qualifier in 2013 graduate Brant Weiss, who finished 12th in the discus (136 feet, 6 inches).
Five of the Golden Eagles' returnees placed in the top eight in the 15-team district 1 meet last year. The 3,200 relay of Perry, Bogantz, Buckles and Muench placed fifth in 8 minutes, 13.81 seconds, finishing one spot shy of advancing to regional. Muench placed sixth in the 800 (2:01.26) and Stark finished eighth in the long jump (19-11 3/4).
Stark competed in the Division I indoor state meet March 8 at the University of Akron, placing seventh in the triple jump (41-7 1/2). The event is not sanctioned by the OHSAA and, as a result, is not part of the postseason meets in the outdoor season.
Big Walnut, which played host to the Red Edward Golden Eagle Relays on April 12, competed scored 36 points in the 18-team Newark Invitational on April 5 to place ninth behind champion Westerville Central (104.5).
"Our biggest strength right now is our middle distance, our guys in the 400 and 800," Myers said. "We have a group that just missed out on regionals last year."
Small sidelined for girls track team
The high expectations that 20th-year coach Joe Evener had this season for the girls track and field team have been tempered.
Olivia Small, the defending Division I state champion in the long jump, has yet to compete this spring because of an illness. According to Evener, how long the senior and Ohio State signee will be sidelined is unclear.
"Had you asked me (my expectations for the season) four weeks ago, I would have had super high expectations," said Evener, whose team finished 12th (19) in the 15-team Newark Invitational on April 5 behind champion Westerville Central (92.83). "But with the slow start and the illness to Olivia, we've started a lot slower than anticipated."
Last season, Small set a program record in winning the state title in 19-8 3/4, joining Suzie Schumick (shot put in 1982) as the only two state champions in program history.
Small, who also won the regional title last year in a meet-record 18-10, competed in the Division I indoor state meet March 8 at the University of Akron, winning both the long jump (18-4) and the triple jump (37-3 1/2).
The Golden Eagles have returned two other state qualifiers in seniors Jamie Annis (hurdles/sprints) and Kristen Carty (hurdles/sprints). Last year at state, Annis placed fourth in the 100 hurdles (15.03) and 14th in the 300 hurdles (45.86) and the 400 relay of Carty, Annis, Small and 2013 graduate Leah Thomas finished 15th (49.88).
Other key athletes include seniors Catie Craig-Bowden (distance), Avery Kerns (high jump/sprints) and Cassie Walaszek (throws), juniors Sam Godby (sprints), Makenna Hemming (middle distance/distance) and Mikaela Smith (middle distance/distance) and sophomore Anna Mackey (long jump).
"Things are starting to take shape," Evener said. "We're starting a little slower than I anticipated, but that's OK. It's not how you start, it's how you finish in track, fortunately.
"Right now, it's a matter of just keep moving forward and representing the program well as far as scoring and improving on a weekly basis. I think if we do that, it will be a successful year."
Boys lacrosse team starts new era
The boys lacrosse team has entered a new era.
Not only did Big Walnut undergo a coaching change in the offseason, but it has moved up to Division II after being in the club division of the OHSLA in its first seven seasons.
Ben Morhac, who was an assistant at Westerville South the past two years, replaced Nate Dewey as coach. Dewey stepped down after compiling a 32-42 record in five seasons, including an 8-9 mark last season.
The Golden Eagles' roster includes five seniors in Alex Alley (attacker), Brandon Hagerman (defender), Blake Heyder (defender), Jhordan Lang (midfielder) and Carter Marsch (midfielder) and four juniors in Aaron Brown (attacker), Matt Curtain (defender), Guy Hatfield (attacker) and Ian Kirkendall (defender).
Last season, Lang had a team-high 37 goals and 16 assists and was second-team all-OCC-Central and Marsch had 14 goals and seven assists.
The remainder of the roster is comprised of 26 sophomores or freshmen, including sophomore Alec Schnabel, who had 109 saves last season as the starting goalkeeper.
"With a new coach and a young team, there's going to be a transition period," Morhac said. "We have some skill. We also have some guys who need work, but they need to realize that it's not going to happen overnight.
"We're trying to get everyone up to the speed they need to be ready for varsity, especially these young guys who may not be ready for it. But they're kind of being thrown in, because we really don't have any options."
Big Walnut opened with an 8-3 loss to Pickerington North on April 9 in an OCC-Central game.
Girls lacrosse team sports young roster
The girls lacrosse team is young and largely inexperienced this season.
Big Walnut features only one senior, four juniors and nine sophomores or freshmen, many of whom have little or no experience in the sport.
"We have kids that are playing for the first time," fourth-year coach Steve Palmer said. "... In some programs, by the time you hit high school, kids have five, six, seven years of experience under their belt."
Big Walnut's lone senior is attacker Janie Serna. Also on the team are juniors Lexie Adams (midfielder), Alex Aughenbaugh (defender), Kelsey Bowling (midfielder) and Morgan Clark (attacker), sophomores Cori Kibler (defender), Cheyanne Salazar (attacker), Madelyn Wecker (defender) and Cassidy Willison (attacker) and freshmen Emily Hall (goalie), Rylee Hall (defender), Lauren Jett (attacker), Macy Nunn (utility) and Sabrina Sawan (defender).
"The bad news is, we only have one senior," Palmer said. "The good news is, we only have one senior. So in the next couple of years, I'd like to think that that would pay off."
Last season, Big Walnut finished 1-14 overall and 0-7 in the OCC-Central. It posted its only win against Chillicothe, defeating the Cavaliers 16-14 to end a 32-game losing streak and a 34-game winless streak.
The Golden Eagles, who have moved to the OCC-Capital this season with Delaware Hayes, New Albany, Olentangy and Olentangy Orange, opened April 5 with a 16-8 loss to Westerville South. They then lost to Gahanna 13-9 on April 8 and lost to Olentangy 18-0 in their league opener April 10 to fall to 0-3 overall.
"All you can ask of (the players) is to come in, try to do some work, learn the game, learn the Xs and Os, learn the ins and outs of the sport, and go play when they have a chance to play," Palmer said. "Unfortunately, we play (in) a tough league. ... But we don't really worry about that. We worry about ourselves."