MOUNT VERNON — For the last few years, the Mount Vernon High School boys track and field team has been a well-rounded squad. Coach Jim Lindsey has had a prefect mix of speed, strength and stamina.
This season, however, the Yellow Jackets have a delicate balance thanks to a strong graduating class in 2008. Lindsey will have his work cut out for him during the 2009 season. Among those gone are Caleb Tier, Dylan Souhrada, Doug Biddle and Joey Estep — all state qualifiers.
“We lost a great nucleus of kids last year,” said Lindsey. “We lost some kids that qualified for state, and many of them made it to regionals. This is a rebuilding year for us. We are smaller in number this year, and I am not expecting a whole lot, but there is some talent this year. Right now, we are developing some young kids.”
Lindsey had a good idea of what to expect prior to the start of this season. He spent many hours indoors working to develop a strong squad.
“Indoor track went pretty good,” said Lindsey. “We had about the same amount of numbers as we do now. We were well represented at state, which was encouraging to see. Plus some of our freshmen came out and got their feet wet. They got to see how it works, and started to prepare for outdoor season.”
Mount Vernon, coming off a third-place finish in the Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division, has a solid core of athletes returning, led by two-time state placer Lucas Ferguson.
“Thorn Lindsey and Tyler Duncan are back, and head up the sprint group,” said coach Lindsey. “We are showing some promise there. Jarrod Vance and Ty Gregg run our distance group, and they have a lot of experience. We don’t have to say a whole lot to them; they take over and they know what they are doing. Of course, we have Lucas Ferguson and Chris Estep heading up our field events. … Harley Filyaw is perhaps the most surprising to me. He made it to regionals last year in the long jump, and he is training Levi Stump in the long jump. They are a good group — a thin group, but a good group.”
The Jackets’ numbers are down this season, which could be a blessing in disguise. It affords many of the younger athletes the opportunity to experience varsity atmospheres.
“It is more manageable, but also a little disappointing,” said Lindsey of his team’s numbers. “The sad part is, going into the winter, I was expecting a lot more depth in the distance events. I was expecting the majority of our points coming from the distance people, and they still may. We had 32 people run cross country and only seven came out, which leaves me wondering how it is going to work.”
Despite not having as many runners, Lindsey believes his distance team will be the key to the Jackets’ success in 2009.
“Distance is definitely our strength,” said Lindsey. “Anything else will be a huge pleasure and a surprise to me. They are a strong group; they’ve been together for a few years.”
Mount Vernon’s field events will also be one of the stronger aspects of the team. Ferguson, who finished third in the Division I State Discus competition last season, and the rest of the Jackets’ throwers have the potential to be some of the best in the Central District.
“Our throwers are a young group,” Lindsey said. “We had some kids that were here last year, but didn’t get into the traveling side of the throwers. Now they need to step up — Mark Lawson, Derek Baker, Dane Cullen — they look pretty good. Once the get some of this season under their belt, they will be very promising.”
Of course, having an athlete the caliber of Ferguson’s gives the group instant credibility.
“Lucas is a person that leads by example,” said Lindsey. “When he is here, he is mentally into it for practice and competition. If they follow him around, they can’t go wrong.”
Mount Vernon, which moved to the OCC Capital Division this school year, has already found some success this season. A third-place finish at the River View Relays started off the 2009 campaign, and could be a highlight of things to come.
Only time will tell, however, how good this team could be. The Jackets will face tough competition at several invitationals this season.
“On paper, I’m looking to finish two or three,” Lindsey said. “Watkins (Memorial) seems to be the strong team, as they are every year. I’m hoping we can sneak some relay teams in there and maybe take some second or thirds away from other teams, and maybe sneak up behind Watkins.”
“Lexington is always strong, always tough. It is hard to compete against teams from Mansfield and Cleveland, but it gives our guys a good look at what is out there around the state. Dublin Coffman is another one.”
The one key for Lindsey is how quickly the younger athletes can come along. If an OCC title and postseason success are in the works, the younger athletes will surely play a pivotal role.
“Every year, we have a lot of young kids that have to fill spots, and every year, for some reason toward the end of the year, they mature,” Lindsey said. “They hit those spots, and contribute. Right now, they are feeling their way around, and our seniors are showing them what to do. I have confidence in them.”