By VINCE PELUSO
After a strong 2013 campaign that saw several area girls teams experience success, the Geneva Eagles team looks to be ahead of the pack yet again.
After getting several runners to the state meet last year much of the Eagles’ squad returns with the potential of getting the entire team down to Columbus.
Which isn’t to say the Geneva is the only talented squad in town.
Lakeside and Edgewood both return plenty of athletes, while younger teams such as Pymatuning Valley and Grand Valley are likely to vie for a conference title.
Following Is a breakdown of the teams in the Star Beacon’s coverage area and what each of their coaches are looking for in the 2014 season (Editor’s note — Coaches from Conneaut, Madison and Riverside did not return preseason information sheets sent to every school weeks ago):
Beth Simpson returns for her third year in charge of the Warriors and has by far her most experience squad to date.
With a deep and talented sophomore and junior classes, Edgewood looks to be in position for a strong campaign.
However, Simpson is looking to her seniors — Jasmine Schiedel (mid-distance), Autumn Hull (hurdles) and Cortney Humphrey (throws) — to lead the team.
“The keys to our success this year will involve my strong returning seniors who I expect will contribute not only a lot of points but a positive example for the younger athletes,” she said. “I will have a strong throws team again this year with returning senior Cortney Humphrey and junior Jillian Dick, as well as a number of promising sophomores and freshman.”
Joining Dick as returning lettermen in the junior class are Emily Amsdell (800), Kirstyn Ecklund (distance), Michelle Gaggiano (sprints), Sarah Stell (400), Cortney Syzej (sprints) and Allison Massaro (PV).
“The core of my mid-distance and distance team, including 400 runner Shelbie Sporcich, return this year as sophomores who I know have been training in their offseason and have improved their times since last year,” Simpson said. “I lost two very fast sets of feet from last year, but am seeing a ton of potential in this freshman class who I’m sure will soon step up and fill those shoes.”
In addition Sporcich, returning in the sophomore class are hurdler Nadia Barbo, sprinter Taylor Hawkins, sprinter Karli Kanicki, distance runners Angel Newman, Savannah Spring, Summer Wooders and thrower Morgan Pack.
Edgewood will compete in the All-American Conference for the first time this spring, something Simpson is excited about.
“As our first year in the All-American Conference, I look forward to competing against some challenging teams that we haven’t gone against before,” she said. “We’ll be looking to establish ourselves within the conference as competitors and create some friendly rivalries.”
Entering his 10th season with the Eagles, coach Bobby McQuoid is looking for big things from his team in the 2014 season.
Back in the senior class are throwers Hannah Ellseworth and Anna Quickle, jumper Abby Williams and middle-distance runner Hailey VanHoy.
“Staying healthy in track and field is always a top priority,” McQuoid said. “If we stay healthy, we have a strong group of returning letter winners back that are coming off a very successful and fun 2013 season.
“Using that success, we will motivate this talented group of underclassmen to keep working hard.”
There is a bevy of talent returning in the junior and sophomore classes for Geneva this season.
Back are juniors Emily Andrus (hurdles-PV), distance runners Catherine Beisel, Julia Hanchosky and Rachael Crites, middle-distance runner Emily Deering and high jumper Riley Doherty.
From the sophomore class returns Summer Arndt (sprints-middle distance), Laura Jackam (distance), Alivia Puckrin (sprints-long jump), Desha Repko (sprints), Ally Thompson (hurdles-PV-LJ), Alyce Simoes (sprints-jumps) and distance runner Sydney VanHoy.
McQuoid knows the Premier Athletic Conference always poses a difficult challenge.
“The PAC is always a tough conference,” he said. “Chardon has a very strong program with some very talented girls. They always seem to be at the top.
“All of the other schools will have plenty of strong competitors, so the conference will again be tough all around.”
Kurtis Fisher enters his fourth season in charge of the Mustangs looking to replace a few key pieces from the 2013 season, but optimistic about his team’s chances this season.
“We graduated some key athletes in Kelly Preske, Melissa Slusher and Brady Nye last year, however we return most of our team,” he said. “We look to be solid in the distance led by Tylor Whitley; solid in the springs led by Chelsea Stehlik; solid in the throws led by Savannah Bitner; and solid in the jumps led by Callie Forrest and Holly Nye.”
Also returning are sophomore sprinters Caddy Cicogna and Nicole Merlino as well as junior sprinter Chelsa McArdle.
“Our key to success this year is to push and challenge each other in practice every day to get better,” Fisher said. “Our success will be a result of how hard we work in practice.”
After finishing fifth in the Northeastern Athletic Conference last season, Fisher is hoping this group has a chance to win the league.
“Our goal this year is to win the NAC championship,” he said. “We will have our hands full with Maplewood and Pymatuning Valley at the top of the conference. Lordstown, Mathews and Badger will also have some tough competition challenging for the conference title.”
The Falcons sport a young roster, full of freshmen for coach Steve Locy.
Back are seniors Collen O’Connor (distance), Kaydee DeVivo (PV-hurdles) and Jessica Woodin (distance-HJ).
Also returning are juniors Shannon Perkins (mid-distance), Hannah Cole (mid-distance), Shannon Bartone (sprints) and Harley Allen (jumps) as well as sophomores Leah Kingston (distance) and sprinter Lauren Buzzard.
Health is the key for Locy’s group.
“Keeping people healthy,” he said. “The maturing of our 17 freshmen. They have an extreme amount of talent, they just have to realize the hard work it takes to compete at the varsity level.”
Even with the newly realigned All-American Conference, Locy believes his team will be towards the top as a team.
“(I) would think that we should be in the top 3 as far as team competition and have 2 or 3 individual champions,” he said.
Now in her third year with the Dragons, coach Christina Powers has a young team that she hopes could be her best year.
Back are seniors Aaliyah Allgood (field) and distance runner Daren Barrientos.
In the junior class retunring are distance runners Carlie Watt, Abby Licate and Megan Abrams as well as sprinters Alexis Benedict and Aerianna Johnston.
“This year’s team is young with a lot of new talent to pull from,” she said. “We need to find the girls expertise and capitalize on it along with introducing them to new events they can excel at.
“Since we lack numbers, it will be important to remain healthy throughout the season.”
Always a difficult conference, the PAC has proven problematic for the Dragons in recent years.
Powers is hopeful this is the year the team can break into the top half of the standings.
“We hope to improve our standing in the conference this year,” she said. “We look forward to the county meet and maintaining or bettering our second place standing.
“Our returning letter winners look toward to the postseason with qualifying past the district level with their goals of making state.”
In his fifth season with the Pirates, coach Layne Richards is excited about the prospects of what Perry returns this season.
Back are seniors Dana Crofoot (jumps-sprints), Kayla Cool (PV) and Rhanna Crittle (jumps-sprints).
Joining them are juniors Lillian Headrich (throws), Marissa Sell (distance) and sophomore distance runners Cecilia Hardy and Maddie Dew.
“We are very excited for our seniors and have many returning letter winners that will make a big impact on the track,” he said.
The Pirates will have to contend in the always strong Chagrin Valley Conference.
Richards believes his sprints and jumps will be at the top of the class in the CVC with the distance runners and throwers being competitive, as well.
“Our sprints and jumps will be really strong and our distance and throws always compete well at the conference,” he said.
Jeff Petrilli steps in his first season as the Lakers coach.
Although he has a relatively large group of returning lettermen, Petrilli believes he has a young group that will need some seasoning as the year goes on.
“I have a team that is green and not well developed,” he said. “Success is going to come from hard work and developing skills for their events.”
Back are seniors Geena Gabriel (sprints-LJ), Savannah Kirby (HJ-sprints) and thrower Lauren Lipps.
Returning from the junior class are distance runners Allison Crouch and Abby Hamilton, thrower Abby Pfrenger and middle distance runner Rebecca Dillon.
The sophomore class is the biggest in terms of returning lettermen as middle distance runners Kat Hall, Megan Lower, Katlyn Marsh, Ashley Ray and distance runner Saydi Lappe all return.
While he said his team needs development, Petrilli does believe they can contend for a NAC title.
“I feel that we have better athletes than last year’s team which should allow us to contend for the league championship,” he concluded.
Peluso is a sportswriter for the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.