The Hilliard Davidson High School boys track and field team is coming off what 27th-year coach Jim Smith considers the best season in program history.
Having returned the majority of their top athletes, the Wildcats are looking to top their accomplishments from last season, when they won their fourth consecutive OCC-Central Division championship and their third Division I district title in a row, placed fifth at regional and tied for 23rd at state.
"We have a lot of our high-scoring athletes back, so we appear to be in a good position heading into the season," Smith said. "We're hoping to defend our league and district titles, and we want to challenge for our first regional title and make more noise in the state meet this year. This could be the best season we've had if we can stay healthy and keep improving."
Davidson features an experienced group of sprinters in seniors Joe Bernard, Dametrius Clark, Phillipie Motley and DaMarcus Nelson.
The four combined to place fifth in the 1,600-meter relay (3 minutes, 18.12 seconds) and eighth in the 800 relay (1:29.12) at state last year.
Also at state, Motley placed fifth in the 100 (10.91) and 10th in the 200 (22.08), and Bernard finished 12th in the 400 (50.45).
The Wildcats also have a deep group of distance and middle-distance runners, led by seniors Garrett Knapik and Garrett McIlvain, juniors Colin Burdette and Johnny McKeown and sophomores Luke Hoover and Robert LeFevre.
Sophomore Drew Brown is Davidson's leader in the shot put and discus, sophomore Jacob Ross is its top athlete in the high jump and McIlvain is among its leaders in the pole vault and long jump.
Bernard also is one of the Wildcats' leaders in the long jump and high jump, and Nelson is one of their top hurdlers.
"We need to find quality second- and third-scorers in a lot of our events to win OCC again because Dublin Coffman and Liberty are always good and Thomas Worthington has improved," Smith said. "We need to develop our depth so that we're three deep in most of the events."
Last season, Davidson scored 204.5 points in the OCC-Central meet to finish well ahead of runner-up Olentangy Liberty (127) and scored 140 points in the 15-team district 2 meet to tie Watkins Memorial for first. The Wildcats scored 39 points at regional as Pickerington North (99) won and they scored nine points at state.
Jaguars seeking first league title
Among the goals for Bradley this season is winning its first league title.
Last season, the Jaguars finished sixth (56) in the OCC-Cardinal meet behind champion Westerville Central (138).
"Our goals for this season are to continue to progress our athletes, contend for a conference title and get as many athletes as we can to compete at regional and state," coach Ben Gadfield said. "I believe we can contend for the conference title. The key will be keeping the team healthy and developing depth in areas on the team we are currently lacking."
Bradley features a deep group of experienced sprinters in seniors Ross Hanson, Skylar Hartley, Tommy Horn, Matt Johnson and Daniel Tepe and juniors Demias Heard and Aaron Scales.
"We have many letterwinners returning to us this spring," coach Ben Gadfield said. "This season, we have great depth in our sprints, primarily in the 200 and 400 events. We also have additional talent spread throughout the rest of the roster."
Hartley and senior Austin Miller are the Jaguars' leaders in the shot put and discus, junior Kyle Stebner is their leader in the hurdle events and Scales is their leader in the high jump and long jump.
Last year, Hartley finished 13th in the shot put (45 feet, 11 1/2 inches) at regional after winning the event in the district 1 meet in 49-2 3/4.
Senior Eric McCabe is Bradley's top distance and middle-distance runner. Last year in the 3,200, he placed sixth (9:33.37) at regional.
Panthers looking for improvement
Darby coach Matthew Fox expects his team to have a strong distance and middle-distance corps, led by seniors Alex Keller and Dylan Stephens, junior Chase Hampton and sophomore Danny Reynolds.
At regional last year, Reynolds finished fifth in the 1,600 (4:22.92), falling one spot shy of advancing to state. Olentangy Liberty's Zach VanGundy placed fourth (4:22.78), edging Reynolds at the finish line.
Also at regional last season, Reynolds teamed with Ryan Baldridge, Hampton and 2013 graduate Kunal Verma to place eighth in the 3,200 relay (8:12.46). Baldridge did not return for his senior season.
Seniors Collin Rack and Tim Lines and juniors Dwayne Oates and Cal Kelleher have returned to lead Darby's sprint unit after combining to place sixth in the 400 relay (43.15) at regional a year ago.
Another key returnee is senior Josh Humbert, who is expected to lead the Panthers in the throws after finishing seventh in the discus (149-9) at regional last year.
"With most of the athletes returning from last season who made it to regional and added depth, we should be competitive in the region once again," Fox said. "I think Josh Humbert is poised for a breakout senior year in the throws and could be one of the region's best in both throws events. Our mid- to high-distance runners should be very competitive with Alex Keller, Danny Reynolds and Chase Hampton all returning along with some welcome new faces. Our entire sprint team returns as well and should be a factor come regional."
The Panthers are aiming to finish higher in the OCC-Cardinal meet after placing fourth (87) last year.
"The OCC Cardinal looks extremely competitive," Fox said. "Obviously, Westerville Central is the team to beat. But with the variety of talent among all the teams in the league this year, things could shake up to be a very interesting league meet. With what we have, a top-three finish is expected, but we will work to compete for that top spot throughout the year."