The Hilliard Darby High School girls track and field team has returned most of its top scorers from last season as it takes aim at repeating as OCC-Cardinal Division champion.
The Panthers scored 146.5 points in last year's league meet to edge runner-up Thomas Worthington (141) for the title.
"We would like to compete for the league championship again, but it's always a tough hill to climb with so many good teams in our division," 11th-year coach Don Seymour said. "We also would like to compete for a district championship.
"We have strong team balance and we always try to find the best fit for each athlete to contribute and grow and that starts on the j.v. level and those girls push our varsity every single day."
Among the key returnees are juniors Emma Kowalski and Naomi Walters, who represented the Panthers in the Division I state meet last season. Kowalski placed third in the discus (131 feet, 10 inches) and seventh in the shot put (39-7 1/2) and Walters finished 10th in the long jump (17-4 1/4).
Senior Stacia Rispress just missed advancing to state, as she tied for fourth (5-3) in the high jump at regional and lost a jump-off to Big Walnut's Kaley Rammelsberg for the final state berth.
"Emma has led our throws team for the last three years," Seymour said. "Emma was all-state in both throws events last year as a sophomore and was the champion in the weight throw in the state indoor meet. She has an extremely hard work ethic. Stacia comes from a very athletic family and she qualified for the state indoor meet in the high jump. She holds multiple school records.
"Naomi and (senior) Maliyah Ellis are two of the top returning long jumpers, with both surpassing 18 feet last season. Both should leave their mark on the program this season and both are outstanding on the track as well."
In the Division I state indoor meet March 2 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Kowalski won the weight throw (53-4 1/2) and placed third in the shot put (39-10) and Rispress tied for 15th in the high jump (5-0), as the Panthers finished ninth (19) behind champion Liberty Township Lakota East (53.5) as 55 teams scored.
Junior Zayna Hampton is another key returnee and joins Ellis, Hampton, Rispress, Walters and freshman Syd Porter in the sprint corps.
"Zayna leads our sprinters," Seymour said. "Out of the gate this spring, she has our top times in the 100 and 200 (meters). She's a great leadoff leg in three relays."
Seniors Erin Cowen and Madison Murphy and junior Daniella Santos have returned to lead the distance events. Santos placed ninth in the 1,600 (5 minutes, 8.43 seconds) in the state indoor meet.
"Daniella leads our young distance group and had a great indoor season and finished all-state in the 3,200 with a sub 11-minute time," Seymour said. "She will likely have every distance record at Darby before she graduates.
"Erin is a great all-around athlete who is willing to do anything for the team. She has competed in nine events on the track as well as in the field."
In the middle-distance events, Hampton and Jane Vulic have returned and will be joined by senior Syd Wyngarden, sophomore Krystal Singh and freshmen Syd Thomas and Mia Wyngarden.
"We're happy that Syd Wyngarden returned for her senior season," Seymour said. "She set the school record in the 800 as a sophomore. She's as tough as nails and just leaves it all on the track."
Sophomore Gabrielle Hammonds joins Rispress and Vulic in the hurdles, while junior Haile Caudill and sophomore Liz Silva are competing in the throws with Kowalski, junior McKenna Spring is competing in the pole vault and Ellis and junior Jenna Hartwell are competing in the jumps with Rispress and Walters.
Hammonds finished 10th in the 60 hurdles (9.53) in the state indoor meet.
Darby finished third (94) in the nine-team Panther Invitational on April 5 at home, behind Gahanna (153) and Davidson (107).
Finishing first were Kowalski in the discus (139-3), Rispress in the high jump (5-2), Walters in the long jump (17-6 1/2) and Hammonds in the 100 hurdles (16.2). Sydney Wyngarden placed second in the 400 (1:01.2) and Santos was second in the 3,200 (11:01.14).
"I really like this group of kids and coaches," Seymour said. "They are passionate, work hard and put in long hours."
Boys track team has 'heavy hitters'
Although the boys track and field team lost 18 athletes from a year ago to graduation, seventh-year coach Matthew Fox likes the experience of this year's squad, which is aiming to unseat Bradley as OCC-Cardinal champion.
The Panthers finished second (128.5) in last year's league meet behind the Jaguars (143.5).
"We return a lot of big-meet experience with seniors Michael Cornathan and Chris Burkhart, junior Malachi McGill and sophomore Sean Carney," Fox said. "We have a nice mix of heavy hitters and depth. We should be a very competitive team in both big invitationals and smaller meets."
In the Division I state meet last season, McGill placed fifth in the 800 (1:53.75), Burkhart finished 16th in the discus (144-5) and McGill and Carney were on the 11th-place 3,200 relay (7:57.14) with 2018 graduates Josh Baldridge and Clint Barnett.
McGill, who missed a significant portion of last season with a pulled hamstring, won the state title in the 800 (1:53.28) as a freshman.
Burkhart and Cornathan will lead the team in the throws and Carney will lead a distance group that also includes seniors Eric Lowery and Owen Martin and junior Balaji Kurapati. Senior Kris Day and juniors Evan Grose and Michael Morone are the team's top hurdlers.
"Cornathan, Day and Burkhart have all been a part of Darby athletics in multiple sports and have been strong leaders for a while, so they will be a positive influence on our younger athletes," Fox said. "Carney, McGill and (sophomore Seveon) Stewart are all ready to take the next step in their progress."
Joining McGill in the middle-distance events are seniors Ryan Griesmer and Matt Imwalle and junior Tyler Hessenauer, while Stewart returns to lead the sprint corps, where he is joined by seniors Todd Pilkington and Eric Williams and junior Lucas Fratianne.
Senior Solomon Toliver is expected to lead the team in the jumps, with help from Pilkington and junior Zach Vent, who also is the team's top prospect in the pole vault.
"I love our balance and depth," Fox said. "We have two great throwers in Chris and Michael. Malachi is obviously a stud in the middle distance, Sean has really worked hard over the last year to become a premier distance runner and we should have three high-jumpers over six feet. We also have three good long-jumpers, Zach in the pole vault and depth at the sprints behind Seveon and Lucas. Depth and balance usually predicts well for a long track season."
In the home Panther Invitational, Darby finished fifth (61.33) of 10 teams, behind champion Olentangy Liberty (88).
Carney won the 3,200 (9:52.03) and Cornathan won the shot put (54-6 1/2). Placing third were Burkhart in the discus (140-11), the 400 relay of Stewart, Williams, Fratianne and Grose (45.12) and the 800 relay of Morone, Fratianne, Stewart and Day (1:33.85).
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 12 -- At Worthington Kilbourne
*April 15 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
*April 11 -- At Delaware
*April 15 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin
*April 11 -- Home vs. Delaware
April 13 -- Shaker Heights Laurel in Hannigan-Galipault at Thomas Worthington
*April 16 -- At Olentangy Berlin
*April 11 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
April 12 -- Home vs. Watterson
*April 15 -- At Bradley
April 16 -- At Ready
*April 17 -- At Delaware
*April 11 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*April 16 -- At Olentangy Berlin
TRACK & FIELD
April 12 -- Elk Relays at Centerville
April 16 -- Hammond Relays at home
*April 11 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*April 16 -- At Bradley