Zach Grubb said he has a lot of talent to work with in his first season as girls track and field coach at Licking Heights High School.
Grubb, who also coaches boys soccer for the Hornets, was a track assistant last spring with Suzi Ketcham, who stepped down after 25 years to coincide with her retirement from teaching.
Grubb, a 2009 graduate of Ohio University, is a science teacher at Licking Heights.
The Hornets lost only one 2012 graduate from a team that finished second (135 points) in the MSL-Cardinal Division meet a year ago behind Grandview (167) and ahead of Fisher Catholic (106), Berne Union (86), Liberty Union (71), West Jefferson (49), Millersport (35) and Harvest Prep (5).
"It's a good situation to be in because the girls have experienced some success," Grubb said. "We want to see if we can take it to the next level now."
The one graduate was Kayla Velasquez, who is competing for Bowling Green State University. She won her third consecutive league title in the discus (128 feet, 4 1/4 inches) and also was third in the shot put (33-5) last spring.
Velasquez finished fifth in the discus (122-10) in the Division I regional to miss a state berth by one spot. She scored four points as the Hornets placed 35th behind champion Reynoldsburg (77) as 43 teams scored.
In the 16-team district 3 meet, Velasquez finished second in the discus (123-10) to become the team's only regional qualifier as the Hornets placed 12th (17) behind champion Reynoldsburg (116.5).
Junior Skyler Ortiz leads the returnees. In last year's league meet, she won both the 100-meter hurdles (15.19 seconds) and high jump (5-0) and also ran on the winning 800 relay (1:49.33) with juniors Justice Stegall and Camerone Bryant and senior PyLynne Myers.
Bryant won the 400 (1:01.47).
Joining Ortiz, Bryant and Stegall in the sprinting corps are junior Alexis Sanidad, sophomore Adrianna Lewis and freshman Mykayla Suggs.
"Our goal is to win the league championship and to get some of our sprint relays to state," Grubb said. "We have strength in sprints, jumps, hurdles and throws."
Myers, Ortiz and Stegall also will compete in hurdles. Ortiz won the 100 hurdles (15.87) in the Licking County meet last year.
Sanidad and Stegall both will compete in jumps, along with Ortiz.
Sophomore Angel Allen is expected to be the top performer in throws. Myers should lead the middle-distance field and senior Briana Konich should set the pace in distance. Junior Ashton Malicoate won the league title in the pole vault (8-6) last season.
"Our team is not the biggest, however, we have pretty good depth in the sprints and throws," Grubb said.
Licking Heights finished third (46) behind Newark (84) and Northland (70) in the season-opening home Hornet Relays on March 30. Fairfield Christian (38) and Whitehall (28) completed the scoring.
The Hornets were eighth (28.5) in the 13-team Dick Houston Relays on April 4 at Heath behind champion Watkins Memorial (74)
Boys team expects to have more balance
Senior Josh Ausberry, juniors Emoni Herring, Byron Justice and A.J. Velasquez and sophomore Curtis Richardson return to lead the boys track team.
Justice will compete in the hurdles and pole vault and is sharing captain duties with Ausberry, a sprinter.
"Justice is going to be very good in pole vault," 15th-year coach Tim O'Cain said. "He went from being mediocre to 14-to-15 feet indoor in one year's time. He works with district guru (Watkins Memorial coach) Marty Dahlman."
Velasquez should lead the team in throws and Richardson should lead in jumps.
"A.J. is looking pretty doggone strong; he's very much improved," O'Cain said. "His footwork is better, plus he's matured and gotten stronger."
The Hornets finished 16th (1) in the district 1 meet a year ago as Hilliard Davidson (104) won.
Licking Heights finished fourth (71) in the league meet behind Liberty Union (192), Grandview (135) and Berne Union (71) and ahead of Harvest Prep (57), Fisher Catholic (53), Millersport (34) and West Jefferson (33).
O'Cain expects a strong sprinting corps. Joining Ausberry will be junior Emoni Herring and sophomores Kendall Bradley, Wes Collins and Devon Eubanks.
Collins also competes in pole vault.
"I think we'll have some good sprinters, but our strength could be middle distance from what we've seen thus far," O'Cain said. "But I think we've got boys who can score in most events. We don't have a lot of depth, but we have enough to compete in every event and I think score in most events."
Senior Mychal Suggs and sophomore Matt Gebremedhim should give the Hornets a strong one-two punch in middle-distance events. Senior Korey Kenney and freshman Anthony Haist are expected to lead the distance events.
"We finally got Mychal Suggs to come out and he had a really good indoor season," O'Cain said. "We've been after him for a few years. He can compete in the 800 down to the 200. Gebremedhim also has looked good."
Sophomore Tajon Herring also has impressed in jumps thus far, O'Cain said.
"Our goals are to win the MSL league meet in our final year in the league and to make it to the second day of the state meet in at least one event."
Licking Heights finished first (68) in the Hornet Relays ahead of Newark (64), Whitehall (64), Northland (45), Fairfield Christian (19) and Bexley (15).
The Hornets were eighth (30) in the Dick Houston Relays behind champion Watkins Memorial (97).