As he does every year, Hilliard Davidson High School girls track and field coach Matt Beatty set up voluntary weight training sessions for his athletes during the offseason, hoping that at least some would take advantage of the opportunity to work out and bond with their teammates.
The eighth-year coach was thrilled to discover that more than half of his team attended those sessions. The Wildcats open the season by playing host to the Wildcat Premier on Saturday, April 6.
"This team is definitely one of the hardest-working groups that we've had," Beatty said. "We had an average of 50 to 65 girls in the weight room in the offseason, and that's the best numbers we've had do that in a long time. I think we're going to see that extra work they put in pay off."
All four of Davidson's state qualifiers from a year ago have returned in seniors Maddie Gallagher, Lauren Hoover and Lizzy Litzinger and junior Ashley Blake.
In the Division I state meet last spring at Ohio State, those returnees placed seventh in the 1,600-meter relay in 3 minutes, 58.34 seconds. Hoover also was fourth (5:01.07) in the 1,600 as Davidson scored seven points to tie three teams for 33rd behind champion Reynoldsburg (56) as 72 teams scored.
Davidson expects to have a deep distance and middle distance corps, led by Hoover, senior Elsa Saelens and junior Catherine Hildebrand.
Also among those expected to be key contributors are senior Cassy Catlett in the sprints, junior Angel Barbande in the discus and shot put, junior McKenzie Brown in the pole vault, junior Ella Sternisha and sophomore Olivia Castrano in the hurdles and sophomore Molly Balcer in the long jump and high jump.
"We have three big hitters in Hoover, Blake and Gallagher, but this is also one of the more well-rounded teams that we've had," Beatty said.
Davidson placed second (164) in the OCC-Central meet last year behind Dublin Coffman (179.5) and ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (82), Darby (78.25), Thomas Worthington (62.75), Upper Arlington (56), Central Crossing (20.5) and Westland (15).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty.
Last season, Davidson finished first (101.5) in the 17-team district 2 meet at Darby ahead of runner-up Pickerington Central (93.5) and placed fourth (33) in the regional meet at Pickerington North behind champion Reynoldsburg (77) as 43 teams scored.
"Coffman has everyone back and they are probably still the best team in the OCC, but we'll do our best to beat them," Beatty said. "A lot of our girls have goals of making it to regional and state, and they're working hard to try to get there."
Jaguars must overcome youth and inexperience
Bradley is young and relatively inexperienced.
Among those expected to be key contributors are seniors Kayla Malick, juniors Cierra Allen and Sydney Rings and sophomores Sara Reitz, Hope Sawchuk and Becca Schalip in the sprints, seniors Kayce Pharazyn and Alex Winner, junior Tes Corea and sophomore Sarah Hebner in the distance and middle distance events, seniors Emily Dublin and Brittany Buhrts in the discus and shot put and junior Sarah Taylor in the hurdles.
"We're very young this year," fourth-year coach Thom Nees said. "We have 52 girls who are freshmen or sophomores, which is over two-thirds of our team because we have only five seniors and seven juniors. We're still looking for the right people to lead us in many of our field events."
Last year, Bradley finished third (85.25) in the OCC-Capital, behind New Albany (161.5) and Watkins Memorial (105) and ahead of Big Walnut (84), Olentangy Orange (76.75), Franklin Heights (61), Delaware (44) and Mount Vernon (40.5).
The Jaguars have moved to the OCC-Cardinal this season along with Darby, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Kilbourne, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.
Last year, Bradley placed eighth (29) in the Division I, district 2 meet and tied teams for 40th (1) at regional.
The Jaguars had two regional qualifiers in Corea, who finished eighth in the 800 (2:21.31), and 2012 graduate Amanda Ciani, who finished ninth in the 300 hurdles (46.21). Bradley did not have any state qualifiers.
"I think we can be competitive in the OCC, but we're young, so we'll see," Nees said.
Panthers facing 'growing year'
Fourth-year Darby coach Don Seymour expects his team to experience a "growing year."
Among those expected to be key contributors are seniors Nikki Misiolek, Julissa Poullet and Aaris Sheets, juniors Helen Erb and Amber Lilly and sophomores Erica Custer and Taylor Kennedy in the sprints, senior Cassidy Shultz and juniors Maggie Kuhns and Emily Melnic in the distance events, Poullet and Sheets in the high jump, Sheets and junior Jordan Alexander in the long jump, Kennedy in the hurdles and pole vault and sophomore Lynsey Day in the discus and shot put.
"This is the first time we've ever started a season without at least one girl who has state experience," Seymour said. "This is going to be a growing year because we're so young, but we'll be a lot more experienced by the end of May and I think we'll see a lot of improvement."
Darby finished fourth in the OCC-Central meet last season but has moved to the OCC-Cardinal.
Last year, the Panthers finished seventh (38) in the 14-team Division I, district 3 meet at home behind champion Reynoldsburg (116.5), finished 13th (18) at regional and tied seven teams for 59th (2) at state.
"Our division of the OCC may be the deepest in the area this year," Seymour said. "All of the teams in the OCC-Cardinal are good, so that meet will prepare us to be at our best for district."