Grove City Christian School track and field standout Calista Manns admits she wasn't the most talented athlete on the team when she attended Jackson Middle School.

Four years later, Manns is preparing to graduate as the Eagles' most accomplished track athlete.

She has competed in the state meet three times and will leave the school as the record holder in six girls events. Entering the postseason, she held records in the 100-meter hurdles (14.07 seconds), 300 hurdles (45.87), 100 (12.34), 200 (25.94), long jump (16 feet, 1 inch) and high jump (5-0).

"I went to Jackson Middle School and I did run the hurdles," Manns said. "It wasn't pretty."

She credits hard work along with the guidance of her first hurdles coach, Lori Baldwin, and her current coach, Jordan Rispress, for her vault to success.

Manns connected with Baldwin during her freshman year, and when Baldwin moved to Washington, D.C., earlier this year, Manns chose Rispress to guide her. Rispress, a former hurdler and sprinter at Ohio State and Hilliard Darby, is the director of track and field at the Ohio Speed Academy Track Club.

"Lori broke my form down and taught me all the technical little things that a hurdler needs to know to get better and be more efficient over the hurdles," Manns said. "Lori taught me a lot of amazing things and when I got to Jordan, he helped me refine the things and fix little kinks. I improved a lot from last indoor season to this indoor season with the help of Jordan."

Manns began her final prep postseason in the Division III district meet May 14 at Watkins Memorial. The meet continues Thursday, May 16, and concludes Saturday, May 18.

The top four finishers in each district event advance to the regional Wednesday, May 22, and May 24 at Fairfield Union. At regional, the top four finishers in each event advance to state May 31 and June 1 at Ohio State.

That is where Manns hopes to capture her first state title.

She came close last season, finishing second in the 100 hurdles (14.13) behind Alysse Wade (14.07) of Mansfield St. Peter's. Wade's effort was a Division III state record, while Manns' time also bettered the previous state mark.

Manns was ninth in the 100 (12.57), with Wade earning her second title (12.13), and Manns also finished 15th in the 300 hurdles (47.42).

With Wade graduating last year, Manns should be the favorite to win the state title in her signature event, the 100 hurdles.

"That's my goal," she said. "I'm chasing the state record in the 100 hurdles. I'm considered the favorite because I was second last year and I won the 60 hurdles at indoor state (March 2 in a state-record 8.67)."

As a sophomore at state, Manns finished seventh in the 100 (12.72) and 300 hurdles (46.12). As a freshman, she was fifth in the 100 hurdles (15.37).

Despite Manns' struggles in the hurdles during middle school, coach Mindy Bankey could sense Manns' potential when she joined the Eagles.

"I could sense it because of her work ethic," Bankey said. "You have a good idea of who's a natural talent and she was. Her form, her focus, all of that, she's extremely talented. If she wanted to become a pole vaulter, she could pole vault. If she wanted to become an 800 runner, she could because she has that mindset that's she's going to succeed and she's extremely driven."

Manns kicked off the MSL-Cardinal Division meet May 7 at Millersport by winning the high jump, matching her program record of 5-0. She also won the 100 hurdles (program-record 14.07), 300 hurdles (program-record 45.87) and 100 (12.54) on May 10, and was named the meet's Most Outstanding Athlete.

Manns' career has earned her the chance to compete at the University of Cincinnati. She compares the atmosphere at Cincinnati to the family feeling she has cherished at Grove City Christian.

"Once I went there and I felt the family environment of the team and just the feeling of being on campus, I knew that I was at home," said Manns, who was recruited by several schools. "It was an easy decision. It's also definitely a family atmosphere at Grove City Christian. That's what I love about the school."

After leaving Jackson, she attended Grove City High School for one semester before transferring just down Hoover Road to Grove City Christian. She calls that decision one of the best of her life.

"I think about how thankful I am that I did (transfer)," said Manns, whose team has trained at Grove City during her prep career. "I'm just a good fit for Grove City Christian. I have a lot of people there who supported me, so it was a good move. ... I try not to think about graduation too much. Outdoor season always goes so fast, but I'm ready for next year."

Graduation at Grove City Christian is May 31, the same day as the state preliminaries.

For Bankey, losing Manns will be bittersweet, but she said her star athlete will leave a legacy with the program.

"She's been a tremendous role model and as a result, she's had more kids get interested in the sport and want to participate," Bankey said. "She has taken the time in practices to help them. She's given them a little coaching, which has been great. It's very hard to lose her, but there's still a strong future ahead."

Also in the league meet, Morgan Iverson won the pole vault (11-0) and Iverson, Olivia Ellis, Brooke O'Dell and Bryanna Trout won the 800 relay (1:54.81). The Eagles finished fourth (100.5 points) behind Fisher Catholic (157.5), Millersport (153) and Fairfield Christian (115) and ahead of Berne Union (75), Zanesville Rosecrans (15) and Harvest Prep (14).

Iverson, a junior, finished seventh (10-6) at state last season after she was unsuccessful in three attempts at 9-6 during the state meet as a freshman. She established a program record of 11-9 in the pole vault earlier this season.

Boys track team vies at league meet

The boys track team finished fourth (70) behind Fisher Catholic (180), Berne Union (155) and Harvest Prep (75) and ahead of Millersport (50), Fairfield Christian (41) and Rosecrans (35) in the MSL-Cardinal meet.

A.J. Gillespie won the 300 hurdles (45.86), Jacob Stoneking was second in the discus (123-1), Jaylin Walker, Gillespie, Zion-Christopher Jackson and Brett Baker were second in the 800 relay (1:39.2) and Walker, Stoneking, Jackson and Brandon Rex were second in the 400 relay (46.95).

Baseball team opens postseason

The baseball team entered the postseason 10-9 after defeating Ready 7-1 on May 11.

The 10th-seeded Eagles opened the Division IV district tournament by playing ninth-seeded Tree of Life on May 13. The winner played top-seeded Newark Catholic or 16th-seeded Patriot Prep in the second round May 15, with that winner playing fifth-seeded Cardington, sixth-seeded Morral Ridgedale, 11th-seeded Madison Christian or 12th-seeded Millersport in a district semifinal Monday, May 20, at neutral site.

The district final is Wednesday, May 22, at a neutral site.

Grove City Christian defeated Tree of Life 12-0 in five innings May 7. Sam Woods tossed a one-hitter, Cameron Downton had four hits and three RBI and Gavin Robbins had two hits and five RBI.

The Eagles defeated Madison Christian 16-8 on May 9 as Robbins had two hits and four RBI.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank