First-year Centennial High School boys track and field coach Philip Farmer didn't know how his athletes would react when he made it mandatory for them to lift weights two or three times a week in addition to their practices.
Fortunately for Farmer, who also serves as the Stars' strength and conditioning coach, they chose to embrace the extra workload rather than resist it.
"What's surprised and pleased me is that no matter how hard I push them to get better, the kids haven't complained or tried to get out of putting in the extra training," said Farmer, whose team opened March 30 by finishing 17th (2 points) in the 17-team Icebreaker Invitational behind champion and host Watkins Memorial (179). "We have great kids in our program and they understand that I'm pushing them harder than they've ever been pushed before, only because I want them to be better than they were last year. My goal is to make sure we continue to get better throughout the season."
Leading the distance and middle distance corps are seniors John Neutzling, Nick Ropar and Matthew Wolfe, junior Kevin Adams and sophomore Andy Briss. Senior Robert Dye and junior Danny Reyes are the leaders in the discus and shot put, and freshman Devante Brown is expected to be a key contributor in the long jump.
The sprint corps is led by Brown, senior Eric Cofer-Wilson, junior Jirequez Fair-Harris and sophomore Darsean Watts.
"Our distance team is real good and we've got a lot of sprinters who look promising," Farmer said.
Last season, Centennial scored 40 points in the City League meet to place sixth, behind Eastmoor Academy (153), Brookhaven (88), Independence (75), Northland (65.33) and Walnut Ridge (59) and ahead of Whetstone (34.33), Columbus West (28), Beechcroft (19.33), Mifflin (16), Marion-Franklin (15), Linden-McKinley (13), Columbus East (12), Columbus South (2) and Briggs (1).
The Stars also placed fifth (60) in the 13-team Division II, district 1 meet at Westerville South behind champion Eastmoor (160). They were represented at regional at Lexington by the 3,200-meter relay of Adams, Wolfe and 2012 graduates Andrew Banks and Stanley Hendricks, Wolfe in the 1,600 and Hendricks in the 800, but did not score as Eastmoor (60) won with 43 teams scoring.
"I want to see our guys pressing hard for the City League championship," Farmer said. "We're a young team, but I also want to see us have some regional qualifiers and maybe even some state qualifiers."
Girls track team looks to reload
The girls track team is expected to be led by two returning distance and middle distance runners in junior Emiyah Kelly and sophomore Catherine Ryan.
Last year, Kelly teamed with 2012 graduate Aarin Jones, Aalyah Slappy and Jenna Herron to place sixth in the 1,600 relay (3:56.67) in the Division I state meet at Ohio State, as Centennial scored six points to tie three other teams for 37th behind champion Reynoldsburg (56) as 72 teams scored.
Slappy and Herron opted not to return for their senior and junior seasons, respectively.
Senior Esther Harrison and sophomores Danelle Easley, Isabella Luaces and Marissa Robertson are expected to be the Stars' top sprinters.
"It's disappointing that (Slappy and Herron) didn't come back because we have only 12 girls eligible to start the season, and I think Isabella and Danelle could have stepped in and helped our 1,600 relay make it back to state," said 12th-year coach Rhonda Reese, whose team opened March 30 by finishing 15th (3) of 16 teams in the Icebreaker Invitational behind champion Gahanna (198).
"We still have two very good distance runners and we have a lot of good sprinters. Hopefully, we can add some more girls as the season goes on and become more competitive in the other events."
Last season, Centennial won its first City League championship, scoring 106 points to finish ahead of Eastmoor (95.5), Brookhaven (67.5), Marion-Franklin (49), Whetstone (46), Walnut Ridge (30), Independence (29), West (24), Africentric (21), Beech-croft (20), Linden (15) and Mifflin (11).
Kelly won league titles in the 800 (2:22.25) and 1,600 (5:27.07) and teamed with Ryan, Herron and 2012 graduate Radmila Zecevic to win the 3,200 relay (program-record 10:09.84). Kelly's time in the 800 set the program record, but she broke that mark when she placed third in 2:19.04 in the Division I, district 3 meet at Hilliard Darby.
Ryan placed second in the City meet in both the 800 (2:24.76) and 1,600 (5:29.14).
The Stars finished 10th (28) of 14 teams at district behind champion Reynoldsburg (116.5) and finished 15th (16) at regional at Pickerington North behind champion Reynoldsburg (77) as 43 teams scored.
Kelly finished one spot shy of qualifying for state in the 800, as she placed fifth (2:19.14).
"We're going to shoot for another City League title, but you can't underestimate teams like Eastmoor and Northland, so it's going to be tough," Reese said. "Emiyah Kelly and (Catherine) Ryan have worked hard and they should be two of the top distance runners in our district."