Lake City track and field, Ashley Veronen

Ashley Veronen took sixth place as a sophomore in the 100-meter hurdles during the 2019 Class A state track and field championships at Hamline University. File photo

The spring sports season is here, and for area track and field teams, the first event of the season is already in the past after Thursday’s opening meets. With no spring season last year, track and field teams are under more pressure to get their roster up to speed as nearly all of the events are next to impossible to replicate without the facilities and events offered during a typical spring for the student athletes. The expectations remain high however, as the goal for area coaches continues to be sending as many individuals to the state meet as possible. With all that in mind, the Republican Eagle has prepared a primer for the upcoming track and field season with everything that you will need to know for the months ahead.

Familiar faces combine with inexperience

It’s been two years since schools organized a track and field meet. Any juniors or seniors from those 2019 teams have since graduated, leaving behind a host of underclassmen that either have marginal varsity experience or none at all. The cupboard isn’t bare, however.

Red Wing returns a strong core of experience, starting with junior Cadence Thorson. She is the lone holdover from the 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams that set school records in 2019 and advanced to state. Thorson also took third place in the long jump at the Section 1AA meet two years ago.

Other key contributors that logged considerable varsity time were Sydney and Sophia Rahn, now a senior and sophomore, respectively.

Incoming talent is prevalent as well as distance runners Morgan Hanlin and Alyssa Rippentrop are expected to contribute in a big way as well as new arrivals Kylie and Matea Stockton.

“The Stockton sisters, they're gonna be a really great asset to our team this year. They just moved here this year,” Red Wing girls’ track and field coach Katie Rausch said. “Otherwise we got a lot of young ones this year, but it’s a real good group I think.”

Lake City is in an even better position as it returns a wealth of experience. Leading the group is senior Ashley Veronen, who was a state entrant in 2019 in the 100 and 300 hurdles as well as the high jump. Jacey Majerus, another 2019 state entrant, returns as the top distance runner. On the boys’ side, Joe Kozlowski and Reese Anderson return in the distance events, while Matt DeMars and Keegan Ryan will be expected to play a key role in the middle distance and sprints.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa also returns a pair of distance runners in Katrina and Natasha Sortland who had both competed at the state meet two years ago. On the boys’ side, the team is young with only four juniors and seniors combined, but head coach Jared Andring said the depth will be beneficial.

“We have a core group of guys who we're not gonna have one person head and shoulders sprint wise above everyone else, but we're gonna have a lot of flexibility in our relays,” Andring said.

Early meets will yield inconsistent results

With a mixed bag of veterans and varsity rookies flooding track and field rosters this spring, results from the early meets are expected to be mixed as well. Not only have none of the athletes participated in a track and field meet for two years, but it’s near impossible to replicate many of the events as well.

“For the younger kids, it's a lot of learning,” Lake City boys’ track and field head coach Andy Hoch said. “They were really never a part of the team their seventh or eighth grade year. Now they’re in ninth or 10th grade so there’s a lot of learning going around.”

The gap since the last time together is so stark that Andring didn’t even recognize some of the students after two years of maturing.

“One of our kids the first day I hardly recognized him because he's like a foot taller, and I've had him in track for three years,” he said.

So the key takeaway from the first few meets will be getting inexperienced athletes exposure to events they may have never participated in. Technical events will be even more trial and error since many of the competitors have never pole vaulted or thrown at the varsity level.

“I think the first couple of meets are going to be try everything, try what you can,” Rausch said.

Schedules, spectators and COVID

Similar to previous seasons this year, track and field events will be dominated by conference opponents. Red Wing will have a Big Nine-exclusive schedule. The boys’ and girls’ teams will compete against the same teams each week, but they will travel to different locations to limit the number of participants at each venue.

Lake City and Z-M will be in a similar situation as most opponents will be from the Hiawatha Valley League. Both teams will venture outside the conference though and compete against nearby schools as well.

Contrary to a winter sports season that limited spectators, track and field meets will not have a spectator cap. Due to this, there will also be no streaming options.

For the student athletes themselves, masks are not required while participating in events but gatherings are to not exceed 50 people.

Jake Pfeifer is the sports editor for the Republican Eagle. Reach him at Jpfeifer@orourkemediagroup.com

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