MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School girls track and field team may not return as many athletes as it would like for the 2009 season, but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare either. Coach Pat Gray has a solid core of runners, throwers and jumpers as well as some capable newcomers that should make this season interesting.
“Our outlook is pretty good right now,” said Gray. “We had some girls that went to state last year, and some of them are back; they have that experience now. They’ve been really focused in practice, trying to show some of the younger ones what it takes to be really successful at a higher level. It was nice for them to get that experience and then be able to come back, and translate that to the rest of our team.
“We had a great indoor season, and they were able to get into shape during the indoor season, so now that we are outdoors, they are getting into a groove,” Gray added. “They are putting the final touches on getting in shape. Once we get to late April and early May, we will just have to do some fine tuning for the big races.”
Perhaps the biggest names to return for Mount Vernon are hurdler Danae Rockwell, sprinter Jhazmyn Anderson and thrower Katie Groseclose. All three are seniors with valuable experience, and Gray expects them to lead the way this season. Also seniors on this year’s squad are Tristin Deem, Sarah Nimeth and Esther Nzishura.
“Danae and Jhazmyn are seniors this year, and they both ran at state last year,” said Gray. “I’ve named them captains and they’ve stepped up. Already at the first meet, they organized all of the girls for warm-ups, making sure they are where they are supposed to be and doing the right stretches. They are making sure everything is organized; they talk to the girls about what to do and how we are going to act. It has been really great having them back.
“Katie Groseclose is our other senior; she threw discus at regional her sophomore year, but got hurt last year. She threw really well on Saturday, and she is a senior leader for us.”
At the junior level, Mount Vernon had eight athletes, including Sarah Baker, Tate Devlin, Brittany Shelhorn and Katie Merrilees. Also returning sophomores with varsity experience include Katie Curry, Heather Wantland, Jessica Roden, and sisters Celia and Zoe Leonard.
“We are not quite as deep, but the talent level is still there,” Gray said. “Tate Devlin is coming back, and she is only a junior. It has been nice to have her be able to show some of those younger girls what it takes to compete at a high level.
“Some of those younger runners are going to have to fill in. Katie Curry and Heather Wantland were around last year and saw how everything was going. We expect them to step up. Hopefully, with a little practice, they will step right in.”
While the Yellow Jackets have been known for their speed the last couple of season, it may be the distance runners that make their mark this year.
“I think the strongest part of the team this year is our distance runners,” said Gray. “Our cross country team finished 13th at regionals as a team, and we’ve got all of those girls running track. Sarah Baker, a junior, was All-Ohio; she was at regionals last year for the 3,200. Celia (Leonard) was at regionals for the 1,600 and she is back. Our 4x800 team is back as well. They’ve made it their goal to make it to state in the 4x800. Our strength and depth is definitely at distance.
“We got some other individuals like Danae in the hurdles, Jhazmyn in the dashes and Katie Groseclose should be in contention for state in the discuss.”
Gray expects his team, which began its season on Saturday at the River View Relays, to be ready for a lengthy postseason when the times comes. His schedule is set up to test his athletes, and the move to the Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division should do just that.
“The River View Relays was great because with the relay set-up, we could run a few more girls than we normally do,” Gray said. “That got us a little more experience, and got our feet wet. We got as many girls involved as possible. We were able to get into the routine of what we do at a meet. Also, the girls have practiced for three weeks outdoors, so this was a chance for them to see where they are and what they need to work on.
“The schedule this year changed a little, but overall, it is almost the same,” added Gray. “We are looking at being home for the Yellow Jacket Relays and SpecTRACKular. We added some big meets for the girls — we go to the Jesse Owens Meet, Dublin Coffman and Lexington — and they will see some state competition. ... The conference switch, for us, means we won’t have to run against Pickerington Central, which is a top 8 team in the state. It kind of goes back the way it was a few years ago. We have Watkins (Memorial), and New Albany is now in there. They have had several good teams, and Watkins is coming off a winning cross country season. Those are the main three teams, but I think it is going to be pretty close.”