As his team prepares to begin the season Saturday, March 31, with a quad meet at Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington High School boys track and field coach Dale Hartney believes what once was a weakness could be a strength.

As his team prepares to begin the season Saturday, March 31, with a quad meet at Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington High School boys track and field coach Dale Hartney believes what once was a weakness could be a strength.

The Golden Bears' field events should be bolstered by the return of two Division I regional qualifiers in senior Frank Epitropoulos (long jump) and junior Ben Kompa (discus).

"We'll be better in general speaking," said Hartney, who is in his 23rd season leading the program. "(The field events) are usually one of our weaker areas, but we're going to have some improvement there that is going to help us."

Epitropoulos just missed representing UA in the state meet last year, as he placed fifth in the long jump in the regional meet at Pickerington North in 21 feet, 8 inches. Canal Winchester's Antonio Whitfield placed fourth (21-8 1/4) as the top four advanced to state.

Epitropoulos, an Ohio State football recruit, also finished 13th in the 400 meters in 52.09 seconds and Kompa was 10th in the discus (131-10) as the Bears scored four points at regional to finish 31st behind co-champions Thomas (37) and Westerville North (37) as 39 teams scored.

"Hopefully, they're a year older, a year smarter, a year stronger and a year better," Hartney said.

UA also returns seniors Sam Colachis and Spencer Luallen in throwing events and senior Tim Corrigan in the pole vault.

In addition to the field events, Hartney likes the development of his middle distance and distance runners. The group is led by senior Victor Pataky, junior Nathan Perry and sophomore Kyle Epperts.

"It'll be interesting to see how Kyle develops this spring," said Hartney, who coaches the boys and girls cross country teams in the fall and works with distance runners for the boys and girls track teams.

"He was having a good cross country season last fall but sustained a hip flexor injury and had to stop. So far this spring, he hasn't shown any ill effects so far."

Epitropoulos, senior Ryan McSheffery and juniors Greg Hickey and Alex Husted lead the sprint corps and hurdling group.

"Almost every one of our top point scorers is back," Hartney said. "We also have a lot of young kids who are hopefully going to surprise some people."

Last season, UA placed fifth (49) in the OCC-Central Division meet, behind Hilliard Davidson (170.5), Dublin Coffman (158.5), Thomas (129.5) and Hilliard Darby (96.5) and ahead of Central Crossing (20), Worthington Kilbourne (19) and Westland (13).

The Bears finished seventh (45.5) in the 16-team district 3 meet at Hilliard Bradley behind champion Coffman (116.5).

Thomas had the area's best finish in the state meet, placing seventh (18) behind champion Cincinnati LaSalle (36) as 78 teams scored.

"You have to have good competition," Hartney said. "If you don't run against good people, you don't know how good you have to be."

Menden, Jaffe among key athletes for girls team

Latisha Wilder, who worked with the boys and girls sprinters the past three seasons, has taken over as coach of the girls team. She replaces Joel Cutler, who coached the team the last two seasons.

"The biggest thing I am looking forward to watching is the improvement of the program," Wilder said. "I want to see each and every athlete improve in comparison to what they've done in the past."

UA returns two state qualifiers in senior Olivia Menden, who placed 11th in the 1,600 (5:06.66) and 12th in the 800 (2:21.7), and sophomore Dorrian Jaffe, who placed 15th in 3,200 (11:46.55). The Bears didn't score any points as Reynoldsburg captured the state title with 47 points as 70 teams scored.

Wilder said having Menden, who also competed on the 3,200 relay at state in 2010 (9:34.1, 11th) and 2009 (9:27.17, 11th), and Jaffe back helps the team.

"They bring a lot of confidence to the team," Wilder said. "(Their accomplishments) strengthens everyone's desire to train. Our relay teams, especially our (1,600 relay) wants to go to state so badly. I'd like to see them accomplish that."

Sophomore Betsy Trace and freshmen Megan Brewer and Hannah Peale join Jaffe and Menden as distance runners. Brewer, Jaffe and Menden helped UA finish 13th (300) in the Division I state cross country meet last fall behind champion Brunswick (118).

Senior Wesleigh Jones, juniors Natalie Bayer and Maren Levering, sophomore Halle Trabue and freshman Grace Van Fossen are among the team's top sprinters.

Trabue (high jump) and Bayer (hurdles/pole vault/high jump) also will compete in field events as well as the hurdle events. Senior Marissa Jaskot and sophomore D'Nae Reese are expected to lead the team in the throwing events.

Last season, UA scored 100 points in the OCC-Central meet to finish third, behind Coffman (164.5) and Davidson (131) and ahead of Darby (88), Thomas (84.5), Kilbourne (55), Central Crossing (26) and Westland (10).

The Bears finished fourth (78) in the 13-team district 3 meet behind champion Dublin Scioto (139) and finished eighth (24) at regional behind champion Reynoldsburg (88) as 40 teams scored.

"The girls have to be disciplined with their work ethic in practice," Wilder said. "The more focused they are, they better they're going to do."