Wildcats look to gain experience on track

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Senior Isaac Heim is one of the more experienced returning athletes on the boys side of Jasper track this season.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

JASPER — Both Jasper’s boys and girls track teams will head into the 2021 season as the defending sectional champions from two years ago, but the girls have a bit more seasoning under their belt, while the boys only have three who scored more than 10 points for the team two years ago.

The Wildcat boys will have to rely on senior Isaac Heim, plus juniors Abe Eckman and Sam Leonard, with Jasper boys coach Kevin Schipp estimating that about 60% of his team is new this year. Schipp counts on the three to be leaders in their categories — Heim in the hurdles, Eckman in the distance events and Leonard in the high jump and middle distance areas.

“It’s a new playing field for a lot of athletes, a lot of things to learn and as coaches, us figuring out how to put the puzzle — 16 events and 60 guys — together,” Schipp said.

Schipp did note the progress some of his athletes have made going into track season, however. He feels senior throwers Carson Chanley and Tyler Kelly both look a lot stronger, while some of his cross country runners who compete in distance — Eckman, plus Jaryn Weinel and Harrison Hulsman, all put in work during the winter.

Jasper’s boys have a lot they will try to replace. Gone are runners like Jackson Miller and Drew O’Neil, who previously went to state in the 4x800m relay, while the latter also went to state in the 3200m run. Mitch Kaiser competed in the 4x400m relay sectional champion as a junior in 2019, and was supposed to share pole vaulting duties with fellow senior Joe Wood last year.

“Right now, we have seven guys trying (pole vault) out,” Schipp said. “We’re going to whittle that down to four or five, but a pretty even playing field for all of them. It’s just going to be a learning experience because we don’t have pole vault in middle school right now. So, everybody’s starting new from Day One.”

Schipp knows his relays are mostly going to look new, as Jasper will have to fill the vacancies left by Miller, O’Neil, Kaiser and also in the 4x100m relay team after Sam Kluemper graduated. He knows that Jasper isn’t going figure this out perfectly at the beginning of the year, especially this year. So, it’ll be a work in progress.

Some freshmen can break through as well, such as Brandon Elizarraras in the sprints and Carter Blume in the distance. The sophomores are new, too, since they didn’t have a season last year, and Schipp mentioned Hulsman, Weinel and another cross country sophomore, Will Gubbins, who will move from distance to hurdles, and he hopes Heim will help Gubbins keep improving in the hurdles.

The girls will also have many new competitors in the fray this spring, but boast more returning experience than their male counterparts do. It starts with junior Andi VanMeter, who competed in the 3200m run at state during her freshman year of 2019, but seniors Kelsea Skorge, Amanda Schnell and Brynn Schwartz are also back. Jasper’s girls will also be returning Taylor Bachman for her junior year.

“The leadership that comes with that is huge,” Jasper girls coach Dean Jerger said. “Obviously, any other coach would realize the importance of good leaders and (the aforementioned female athletes) are exactly that. Not only are they good athletes, but they’re good leaders along the way, too.”

Senior Grace Kizior practices the high jump on Tuesday at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium.

Schwartz won a high jump championship in the now-defunct Big Eight Conference, but other field competitors are gone, such as thrower Marissa Bradley and conference champion Olivia Biggs in the pole vault.

Jerger likes the depth that the Jasper girls have at pole vault with senior Isabella Olinger, junior Emma Harris and sophomores Paige O’Neil and Riley Fischer. However, the throwing events are tougher.

“We have a good group of throwers,” Jerger said. “Nobody’s really come out and dominated the shot put and the discus the way that Marissa could. So, that’s an area of concern that we have this year.”

Yet, he still touted the likes of seniors Camille Aders, Haley Kippenbrock, junior Mya Stiles, sophomore Libby Mehringer and freshman Emma Schipp as female throwers who will only continue to get better.

Jasper will turn to seniors Amelia Ahner, Grace Kizior and Amanda Schnell to run the 300m hurdles. Sophomores Michelle Ondiek and Niya Zazzetti couldn’t get a meet in last year, but Jerger likes the strength and speed they bring to the table.

He threw many names out there for his relay teams. Jerger mentioned VanMeter, Skorge and Schnell as candidates for the 4x800m relay teams, as well as Schipp and senior Kalen Jochum. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are looking to Ondiek, fellow sophomore Anna Underwood, Bachman and senior Aliyah Schwenk as candidates for the 4x400m relay, along with freshmen Caroline Kieffner and Allie Werner.

The Wildcats have rejoined the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference this year, and Schipp believes it’s going to be a learning experience on the boys side because he knows the Evansville schools sport tough teams in track. Jerger knows it’ll be a challenge based on the fact that the SIAC fields more teams.

“I can’t make any predictions, but I bet we’re going to be in contention, and hopefully, my goal is to be in contention every year,” Jerger said.

“I hope to compete for a title,” Schipp said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes, though. The guys have to compete hard every day in practice and be the most prepared team and the hardest working team, then that gives you a chance.”

Jasper’s boys have a dynasty going with four straight sectional titles, while the girls reclaimed their sectional crown in 2019 after Southridge pried it away the year before.

The girls and boys each field potential state qualifiers heading into the 2021 track season as well.

“That’s a hard thing to predict at times, but just going off the guys that have returned, I believe Abe Eckman has a good chance in the distance events if he stays healthy and continues to improve,” Schipp said.

Jerger, meanwhile, hailed VanMeter for how motivated she is. He told her when she was a freshman not to take going to state for granted, because it might not happen every year just because it happened one year. Jerger knows it’s hard to get to state, but he listed some names who could join her if she makes it again.

“I think Taylor Bachman has a real chance, hopefully Brynn Schwartz,” Jerger said. “And then I see no reason why Kelsea Skorge couldn’t flirt around with advancing as well.”

The season is set to begin March 18 at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium against Springs Valley.




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