Track expectations high for Pats

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior Rebekah Gordon practices the discus throw on Wednesday. Gordon made to state in the shot put as a sophomore in 2019. 

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

LINCOLN CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic took away every athlete's opportunity to compete last season in a spring sport, but it was hard for people like Heritage Hills boys track coach Pete Lashley, too.

"I started coaching track and field as an assistant at South Spencer in 1992, and last spring was the first spring in that time period that I went without coaching track," Lashley said. "I desperately missed it so bad as a coach, that I can only imagine what it was like for these kids as athletes to have to sit it out."

"I think the most difficult part was just missing out on the competition, and then more importantly, the growth and the learning that comes from competing," said girls coach Josh Wilson. "I think anytime you step out on the track or you take the field, there are going to be lessons learned based on how you perform, and we lost a year of teaching and learning."

The Patriot boys graduated some seniors who would've made an impact for them in 2020. Alex Hasty would've pole vaulted, while Cody Moffitt and Isaac Maddox would've been among the team's throwers. The Pats also lost Gavin Vaal, Kaden Feldpausch, Jacob Wetzel and Charlie Webb.

Having no track season last year also dealt a tough hand to the sophomores, as Lashley liked what they would've done as freshmen. Now, however, they lost a year of experience.

"I think we'll have some growing pains," Lashley said. "But for us, the guys program at Heritage Hills, we've been a fundamental program, a consistent program, especially over the last five or six years. And the way we do things —  our program is united and connected between guys, girls, high school (and) middle school."

Last year was supposed to be Wilson's first year as the girls coach, succeeding Dawn Mix. He'll get that opportunity this year, and will be taking on some experienced athletes. Heritage Hills graduated the likes of Abby Kern. However, senior Elizabeth Williams and junior Claire Lange made it to the regionals in the hurdles, and junior Abi Wilson, Josh's daughter, was another regional qualifier.

Katie Winkler is back as a senior, and is expected to be prominent in a deep section among distance runners. Freshman Sidney Ayer, sophomores Halle Jordan and Xia Peters, plus junior Matayia Sims are also touted as distance runners this year.

The Pats also return some throwers in seniors Rebekah Gordon and Sarah Mangan, plus Sarah's junior sister, Grace.

"We just have a quality set of people, and that's my focus, for sure," Josh said.

The boys will have a number of athletes they are going to turn to. Lashley believes junior Alex Schaeffer will be both the team's best long jumper and the team's best discus thrower, but he believes Schaeffer can excel in the high jump, too. Lashley also thinks Schaeffer's height can help the team in the shot put.

Grant Lashley, Pete's son, represented Heritage Hills at state two years ago in the 800m run when he was a senior, and this year, Pete sees two athletes can represent the Patriot boys at state. He thinks senior Grant Gogel can make it to state in the pole vault, and fellow senior Elliott Buechlein can also get there as a distance runner.

Heritage Hills senior pole vaulter Grant Gogel is a leading candidate to represent the Patriot boys at state this year. 

"Those two guys need to have a goal of making the state finals," Pete said.

He knows depth is key, and he thinks his boys will be deep enough to have solid performances in their relays. Pete mentioned Buechlein, fellow seniors Wyatt Koenig and Owen Rahman, plus sophomores Charlie Brentlinger and son Pierce Lashley as those who could run the 4x800m relay. He's excited that he'll have a number of athletes to choose from for the three relay events.

The Pats will have a number of options for their sprints, too. Pete lauded some athletes in his junior class, like Kort Schaefer, and also notices speed from some who are new to track in Ethan Hill and Luke Rickelman. He also hailed sophomores Brenden Chew and Shelden Smith for how fast they are.

On the girls side, Gordon made it to state two years ago when she came in 19th place in the shot put. Josh has the bar set high for her, but he doesn't think that she alone could represent Heritage Hills at state.

"My expectation is for Rebekah to be in Bloomington in June," Josh said. "I think that Katie Winkler has an opportunity has an opportunity to advance as well. I think Elizabeth Williams has an opportunity to do the same thing and advance out of regional. I think that Abi Wilson could potentially advance, I think that Claire Lange could potentially advance."

He noted that Sarah Mangan threw "exceptionally well" in practice in the discus last year. Heritage Hills was excited to see what she could've done against Pocket Athletic Conference competition, but never got the opportunity.

Josh has high expectations for his 4x100m relay —  that they'll get out of sectional. Junior Macey Toler is a transfer from South Spencer, but she would be the only one projected in the event who hasn't worked with the other runners. He also envisions Abi, Lange and Williams as being part of the 4x100m relay, and though he didn't want to call it a lock, he said that event is, "all but set."

Some of those relay runners are also expected to play key roles in some of Heritage Hills' field events. Josh believe Lange will be a "big time performer" in the high jump, and he's looking to Abi and Toler in the sprints and long jump.

The competitors will be dealing with an expanded PAC this year, and Josh thinks his girls will be well-positioned to compete for a title.

"You have to take your competition into account, the other kids into account, but I want our girls to focus on what it is that they can control and take ownership of their performance," he said. "And I think if that they focus on those things, that we're going to be good."

Pete noted it was already a really good conference with the Pats, Tell City and Gibson Southern competing it out on the boys side, and is curious to see where Forest Park finishes this year. He knows some talented teams are coming in, but the goal is to win the PAC.

"We're going to have some top end athletes that are going to be able to compete for championships in their event, but at the same time, I think we're also going to be deep enough that we're going to be able to score some underneath points as well —  picking up third, fourth, fifth and sixth and that's key if you're going to win a team title," he said.

The Pats will get a look at some PAC competition right out of the gate on April 1, when they are scheduled to host South Spencer.

"I think our focus, our intensity and the way that we approach practice intentionally every day is what is going to get us prepped," Josh said.




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