As a new means of motivation, Hilliard Darby High School girls track and field coach Don Seymour promised his athletes they could compete in the indoor season for the first time if they trained hard during the offseason.

As a new means of motivation, Hilliard Darby High School girls track and field coach Don Seymour promised his athletes they could compete in the indoor season for the first time if they trained hard during the offseason.

The third-year coach's plan worked, as around 35 athletes got together on a weekly basis to run or work on other skills throughout the winter.

The Panthers scored 5.5 points to place 39th in the Division I indoor state meet March 17 at the University of Akron behind champion Solon (58), as senior Bri Rispress placed sixth in the 60-meter hurdles (9.46 seconds) and tied for sixth in the high jump (5 feet).

Darby opened its outdoor season March 24 by scoring 114.5 points to win the 15-team Icebreaker Invitational at Watkins Memorial ahead of runner-up Gahanna (94.5).

"That was my way of motivating our kids to run all winter and we had more commit to doing it than I expected," Seymour said. "I think that's going to pay big dividends this spring, because we've already built a nice foundation and I think we're ahead of schedule. The other nice aspect of this is a lot of our kids got a taste of success during the indoor season and they're working hard to have even more success during the outdoor season."

Rispress is the team's top hurdler and high jumper, and she is one of their top sprinters along with seniors Caitlyn Rack and Dawnyae Simpkins and juniors Julissa Poullet and Aris Sheets.

Poullet and Sheets are the team's top high jumpers, while sophomore Jordan Alexander and Sheets are the leaders in the long jump and senior Ellen Ransome is their Panthers' most experience pole vaulter.

Seniors Kaleigh Clark and Jen Long and freshman Taylor Kennedy are the team's top performers in the shot put and discus. Leading the distance and middle distance corps are Simpkins and senior Jodi Mescher.

Last year, Darby finished fourth (88) in the OCC-Central Division meet, behind Dublin Coffman (164.5), Hilliard Davidson (131) and Upper Arlington (100) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (84.5), Worthington Kilbourne (55), Central Crossing (26) and Westland (10).

Darby placed fourth (77) in the 13-team Division I, district 4 meet at Hamilton Township last year behind champion Davidson (110), as Rispress, Sheets, 2011 graduate Kaitlin Ferry and Rack finished first in the 800 relay (1:44.36) and Rispress, Simpkins, Poullet and Sheets won the 1,600 relay (4:04.6).

The Panthers then tied Northland (10) for 21st at the regional meet at Pickerington North as 40 teams scored and did not have any state qualifiers for the first time in 11 years.

Rispress finished fifth in the 100 hurdles (15.42) to miss qualifying for state by one spot and placed sixth in the 300 hurdles (46.48).

"We have a lot of older girls who are experienced and we have the most talented crop of freshmen we've had come through here in several years," Seymour said. "I feel good about the team, but we know that you're going to have to do something special to get to state this year because central Ohio is absolutely loaded with talent across the board."

Day expected to lead young boys team

The boys team opened March 24 by scoring 45.3 points to finish seventh in the 16-team Icebreaker Invitational behind champion Logan Elm (154.5).

Darby is led by junior Caleb Day, who is the team's leader in sprints, hurdles and the long jump.

Senior Austin Gifford, sophomores Tim Lines, Collin Rack and Jacob Stacy and freshman Dwayne Oates are the team's other top sprinters.

The team's distance and middle distance corps include seniors Drew Lowery, Sean Newman, Ryan Newport, Allen Qian and Brian Roth, junior Lane Hagar and freshman Chase Hampton.

Senior Dan Carter, junior Jesse Rowe and sophomore Josh Humbert are the team's leaders in the shot put and discus.

"This year, we are extremely young and will be looking to just build a culture that can lay a foundation for the years to come," first-year coach Shawn Johnston said. "We have a good core group of kids who have bought into what we are trying to do and now it is all about pursuing excellence, personal goals and putting our L.E.A.P. philosophy into action each and every day. L.E.A.P. stands for Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof, and it is our philosophy and how we live our lives."

Last year, Darby finished fourth (96.5) in the OCC-Central meet, behind Davidson (170.5), Coffman (158.5), and Thomas (129.5) and ahead of UA (49), Central Crossing (20), Kilbourne (19) and Westland (13).

The Panthers scored 57 points to place sixth in the 12-team Division I, district 2 meet at Bradley behind champion Davidson (109).

Day won the 110 hurdles (15.23), placed second in the 300 hurdles (39.57) and finished fourth in the long jump (21-6 1/4).

The Panthers then scored 12 points at the regional meet at Pickerington North to finish 25th behind co-champions Thomas (37) and Westerville North (37) as 39 teams scored. Day placed fourth at regional in the 300 hurdles (39.73) to qualify for state for the first time.

Darby did not score in the state meet at Ohio State, as Day finished 14th in the 300 hurdles (40.35).

"As a team, we are just focused on going out and getting better every meet," Johnston said. "We want to get a personal record every week. If we can do that, we will be tough to contend with when championship season rolls around."