Toni Woods is back to lead the Groveport Madison High School girls track and field team.
The junior was the Cruisers' top scorer in the Division I, district 1 meet last season at Hilliard Darby and joined 2017 graduates Kendra Soler, Cleo Steward and Imani Johnson on the 400-meter relay in the regional meet at Pickerington North.
After placing third in 49.8 seconds at district, the 400 relay finished sixth (48.78) at regional, falling two places shy of advancing to the state meet at Ohio State. The relay was the Cruisers' lone regional qualifier.
"(Woods) should lead in sprint and jumps again," eighth-year coach Aaron Fenzel said. "She was (an OCC-Capital Division) champion in the long jump last season and set the school record (17 feet, 3 1/2 inches). Plus, she is coming off an eighth-place finish (16-7 3/4) in the indoor state meet (March 3 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva)."
Woods was the only Cruiser to score in an individual event at district, placing eighth in the long jump (16-6 1/4) after setting the school record in the league meet at Dublin Coffman.
Also at district, Johnson, Woods, sophomore Madi Young and Steward finished fifth in the 800 relay (1:46.2) and fifth in the 1,600 relay (4:06.2).
"We're expecting Madi to have a great season in the 400, but putting together relays will be a challenge," Fenzel said. "Our freshmen need to step up in order for us to be successful this season."
Freshman Emily Allen should make an immediate impact in sprints, according to Fenzel. Freshman Atanna Gunnell should be one of the team's top hurdlers, and freshman Isabella Burholt should be the team's leader in the high jump.
Other key athletes include juniors Alexis Green (hurdles), Aysa Mosley (throws) and Victoria Will-iams (middle distance) and sophomores Madison Newsome (throws) and Melanie Torres (distance).
Among other expected contributors are seniors Mariah Davidson (hurdles/jumps) and Zaria Wansley (throws), junior Ajenae Glover (middle distance), sophomores Makalia Boston (sprints), Michaia Bridges (sprints), Cherub Clarke (middle distance) and Patience Cox (sprinters) and freshmen Emani Anthony (sprints), Noriyah Hogg (sprints) and Chenise Smith (sprints).
The Cruisers don't have any pole vaulters.
"We graduated three of our best runners, but we have three or four freshmen who have the potential to step up and do very well," said Fenzel, whose team opened March 27 by finishing third (34 points) in a tri-meet, behind co-champions Pickerington North and host Hilliard Bradley (69). "We are a young team with a bright future."
In the opening meet, winning were Young in the 400 (1:04.67), Williams in the 800 (2:39.12) and Newsome in the shot put (31-6).
Boys track team seeks to overcome obstacles
The boys track and field team will have to overcome some obstacles this season, but 12th-year coach Jason Brooks remains optimistic.
"Our team has had some unfortunate things happen, but we are young and talented," he said. "We have a great, young distance group that is led by an excellent coach in Vincent Gay. Our sprint relays will be solid to very good this year, and we should be able to compete to be in the top three in the OCC-Capital meet."
The Cruisers not only lost some of their top scorers from a year ago to graduation, but lost four others who were expected to be among their leaders this season. Junior Marvin Brooks now competes at Pickerington Central, sophomore Isaiah Pittman transferred to Whetstone and junior Lee Bennett is now at Gahanna. In addition, senior Joshua Max-Dixon is academically ineligible, according to coach Brooks.
Last season, Marvin Brooks set the school record in the 400 (50.71) and was on the fifth-place 800 relay (1:32.19) and sixth-place 1,600 relay (3:28.37) at district, along with Max-Dixon and 2017 graduates Kudzovi Nuakey and Mustafa Al-Harbi.
Pittman had a strong season in the long jump and 300 hurdles, and Bennett was expected to be a top sprinter and high jumper this year.
Juniors Peyton Baker (distance) and Tazmere Givens (sprints) have returned and are expected to lead the way this season.
Baker was a regional qualifier in cross country last fall.
"Peyton is looking to make the same noise in the mile this season," said coach Brooks, whose team did not have any Division I regional qualifiers last season. "He has all the ability and the right attitude to get there. Tazmere is a very hard-working young man who has stepped up and is being a leader and mentor to this young squad. He is the backbone of all three of our sprint relays."
Senior Thomas Gullatt and sophomore Illyaas Haji are expected to support Baker in the distance events, while Gullatt, senior Lonnie Stuckey, sophomore Rafael Soler and freshman Kahari Davis will compete in the middle-distance events.
In addition to Givens, the sprint corps includes Davis, junior Naseem Bowers, sophomores Esco Davis and Tyrell Floyd and freshman Jahlil Underdown.
"Lonnie is a first-year runner for us, but has competed in summer track for years and I am glad he decided to run for us for his senior season," coach Brooks said. "He brings leadership, dedication and a fantastic attitude to our team. This is crucial for the development of our young runners. He anchors both the (800 and 1,600) relays."
Givens and freshman Eli Jackson will be the team's top hurdlers and freshmen Jashawn McGraw and Cole Johnson and junior Deahmi Guinn will lead the way in the throws. Sophomores Jaden Lewis and Keimare Burnett and freshman Jon Motton should lead the team in the jumps.
The Cruisers don't have any pole vaulters.
"Our sprint relays will be our strength this year, for sure," coach Brooks said. "We don't have standout open-event competitors yet, but we do have a strong corps of sprinters."
Groveport opened March 27 with a tri-meet at Bradley, finishing second (69) behind the host Jaguars (74) and ahead of Pickerington North (31). The Cruisers won all four relays and four individual events.
The 3,200 relay of Baker, Haji, Gullatt and Soler won in 9:06.21, the 800 relay of Kahari Davis, Esco Davis, Givens and Stuckey won in 1:36.53, the 400 relay of Esco Davis, Givens, Underdown and Bowers won in 46.32 and the 1,600 relay of senior Kaylen Gabbidon, sophomore Michael Gossett, Soler and Givens won in 3:52.09.
Also winning were McGraw in the shot put (39-6 1/2), Guinn in the discus (112-1), Burnett in the long jump (18-10 1/4) and Baker in the 1,600 (5:02.36).
TRACK & FIELD
March 27 -- at Hilliard Bradley with Pickerington North
March 31 -- Newark Invitational
April 3 -- Cruiser Invitational at home
April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North
April 10 -- at Marysville with Watterson
April 13 -- New Albany Invitational
April 21 -- Elmo Kallner Invitational at Hamilton Township
May 4 -- Hilliard Bradley Invitational
May 10, 12 -- OCC-Capital meet at Olentangy Orange
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison baseball, softball and boys tennis teams:
*April 6 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
April 7 -- Home vs. Briggs (DH)
*April 9 -- At Canal Winchester
*April 11 -- At New Albany
April 5 -- Bamberg (S.C.) Ehrhardt in Grand Strand Softball Classic
April 6 -- Penfield (N.Y.) in Grand Strand Softball Classic
April 10 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*April 11 -- At Franklin Heights
*April 5 -- At Franklin Heights
*April 10 -- At Canal Winchester