SEASON PREVIEW: Valley track and field stars to bolster college programs

Mar. 21—Are there some pretty good high school athletes among Wabash Valley track and field teams this spring?

Maybe the person to ask is the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year for both men's and women's indoor track.

Angie Martin of Indiana State lists eight incoming freshmen for the Sycamores this fall with Wabash Valley ties — sprinters Kyarra DeGroote and Dusty Welker of West Vigo, distance runners Gnister Grant of Northview and Peyton Smith of Linton and multi-event athletes Sophie Hale of Linton and Kathryn Ison of North Central on the women's side and distance runner Jcim Grant of Northview and high-jumper Noah Gilmore of Robinson to add to the men's team.

It's the biggest local haul for the Sycamores in quite some time, and those aren't the only athletes worth following. Here's what's going on with the traditional Big Four teams.

—Northview — Gnister Grant and Indiana-bound Ellia Hayes lead the Knights' distance crew on the girls team and a third senior, shot-putter Varzidy Batchelor, is another regional qualifier from 2023.

Other female Knights who got out of last year's sectional for coach James Grounds are junior high jumper Gracie Pritchard and sophomores Halle Vitz, Aubrey Miller, Jenna Farris, Karsyn Buck and Brenna Stallcop. Newcomers expected to help are sophomore Rekelle Terrell and freshmen Mackenzie Heaton, Leah Nevill and Ailia McVay.

"We are looking forward to a great track season," Grounds said.

Jcim Grant, Doug Dillman, Clint Mager and Connor Propst lead the distance runners for the Northview boys, who sent all three relay teams to the regional for coach Mark Raetz.

Other main returners, Raetz said, are Mason Sutherland and Preston Heiliger in hurdles, Brandon Brewer and Kai Moore in throws and Bobby Styck, Jace Deakins and Colton Bath in sprints.

—Terre Haute North — For coach Jennifer Russell's girls, Cali Wuestefeld returns after being a regional qualifier in all four of her events: 100 hurdles, long jump, pole vault and the 4x100 relay.

Emma Martin returns in hurdles and high jump (and at least one relay), Sophia Barker is back in the middle distances and Miley Wuestefeld competes in many of the same events with her older sister.

"We have a small team this year but we have some quality athletes returning," Russell said. "As the season moves along we should definitely not be counted out."

North boys coach Aaron Gadberry points out that seniors Blake Halford and Zach Able both advanced to the regional in the 400 (Able) and the 100 and 200 (Halford).

"We need those two seniors to show great work ethic in practice to help the underclassmen get better," Gadberry said. "Our distance guys need to continue to get better to help the team score points."

—Terre Haute South — South's boys are two-time defending sectional champions and the South girls are seeking revenge over Northview after winning the previous six sectionals in a row.

Regional qualifiers returning for the South girls are Demme Hancewicz (400), Lily Merk (hurdles, high jump), Alayla Connelly (300 hurdles), Abby Clark (pole vault) and Indi Nichols (shot put).

State qualifier Cassidy Pettijohn will miss her sophomore season because of a recent surgery, coach Josh Lee reported, but the Braves return two sprinters (Shalane Blakey and Kylee McGuirk) who were injured last year.

"I'm excited to see where this group goes," said Josh Lee.

Key returnee for the South boys, coach Jon Lee said, is senior Ethan Aidoo, who got to the state in the 1,600 and to the regional in the 800. Other regional qualifiers last season were Stephen Markle (400), Braeden Chastain (800), Josh Morgan (high hurdles) and Jaston Wyke (pole vault).

Other key South boys are Tyree Cuffle (long jump and sprints), Jake Price (long sprints), Joseph Vaughn (injured last year), sophomore throwers Ryan Hescher and Paul Chalos, freshman Mayson Lewis, a group of distance runners from a sectional-winning cross country team and some football veterans like Treva Branch, Kyle Cottee, Armani Suggs, A.J. Watkins, Zy'eiar White and Nic Yatsko.

—West Vigo — DeGroote (three) and Welker (two) have a combined five state-finals qualifications and were the two fastest girls in Vigo County last spring to give girls coach Mellissa Weir a good start.

Other returning regional qualifiers are Cassie Roush (1,600), Masyn Fisk (pole vault) and Chloe VanGilder (discus), while Gwen Garman adds depth in distance events.

"This senior class is full of hard-working individuals who are leaders," Weir said. "It should be a season of personal gains and growth."

Veteran (and that might be an understatement) coach Bill Petscher has a two-time regional qualifier in pole-vaulter Jordan Krause and he is one of just three Viking seniors along with Alex McKinney (400 and high jump) and Bryland Pape (distances).

Other key Viking boys are Liam Campbell, Jaxson Kyrouac, Ben Shook, Cameron Umphries, Hunter Davis and Kayden Harmon.

"We are relatively young and inexperienced," Petscher reported, "but it is a great bunch of kids that are working hard and have fun. We will improve meet by meet."