MP girls aim to build on last year’s success
Coming off a successful season last year — which included a conference championship, a state championship in three events and an sixth-place team finish at state — the Mt. Pleasant girls’ track and field team is still young and still talented, and they are aiming for an even better year.
The team includes only five seniors, but nonetheless, the Panthers bring a lot of experience back to the track.
They return 16 letterwinners, 12 state qualifiers and seven returning state placewinners.
Three of those state placewinners are three of the best hurdlers in Class 3A. Between junior Leslie Taylor, sophomore Kelsi Phipps and sophomore Hannah Becker, the Panthers are expecting another impressive season in the hurdles.
Phipps recorded the fastest Class 3A time in the 100-meter hurdles last season, and Leslie Taylor won the event at the state meet, while Phipps placed third overall.
Only two athletes per school can be entered in the event at the state-qualifying meet, otherwise its likely that Becker would be on that list as well — she recorded the third-fastest 100-meter hurdle time in Class 3A last season. However, Becker was a state qualifer in the 400 hurdles.
The three of them were also part of last year’s shuttle hurdle team, which not only won state, but also set a Class 3A meet record in the process.
The relay team is looking for a fourth runner, however, as Kaitlin Jones — who competed with them at state last season — has elected not to participate in track and field this year.
“Five girls are currently competing for that spot, and whoever it is has a good shot a being a state champion,” Hutchcroft said.
The three hurdlers also compete in field events, along with a few other experienced returners.
Taylor will work to defend her state title not only in the hurdle events, but also in long jump, and Phipps will be competing in the long jump this season as well.
“We have moved Phipps to the long jump,” Hutchcroft said. “Even though she high jumped last year, we think she could develop into an excellent long jumper and we wanted to balance out our jumping events, number-wise and talent-wise.”
That leaves Becker and senior Grace Lutovsky covering the high jump, and Hutchcroft expects they are more than capable of doing so.
The Panthers also bring back some talent in the throwing events: sophomore Mary Wester (a state-qualifier in shot put) and senior Elinor Krieger-Coble.
The Panthers also have a deep distance running group, led by juniors Taryne Shull and Chloe Haffarnan.
Those two teamed up with sophomore Natalie Ita and junior Natalie Myers to place eighth in the 4x800-meter relay at state last season.
“(They) are certainly looking to move up this year,” Hutchcroft said.
And after finishing ninth as an individual in the 800-meter run at state for the second year in a row, Haffarnan will be looking to bring back a medal this year.
The distance group will be missing Hannah Weber, who is still recovering from a cross-country injury, but with help from junior Emma Ludwig, senior Maddie Lance, and sophomore Ellie Conrad — a 1500-meter state-qualifier — they should still have the depth to compete in all distance events.
“The one area this year where we are a little thin is sprinters,” Hutchcroft said. “Veterans Tasha Vancil (senior), Abigail Feldman (junior), Grace Lutovsky, Laura Hult (sophomore), and Jayde Mumme (sophomore) will be counted on in the sprint events along with the hurdles.”
The Panthers will also have senior Amy Buckert, who has been struggling for about a year with some back problems. But even with her healthy, the Panthers will not have quite enough returning athletes for all their sprint events and relays.
“This is an area you may see some freshmen in the starting lineup,” Hutchcroft said.
Hutchcroft will have plenty of freshmen to choose from — rookies make up nearly half of this year’s team.
There are 36 girls out this season, and 16 of them are freshmen.
“It is too early to tell who among these freshmen will help the varsity, but it is safe to say a few of them will have to help fill some holes, especially in relays,” Hutchcroft said.
Overall, this year’s Panther girls’ track team is a promising mix of youth and experience.
They also have a lot of experience returning in their veteran coaching staff, led by Hutchcroft. The head coach begins his 42nd year of coaching track, including 21 years as the head coach at Mt. Pleasant. He is assisted by Alan Peck, who’s been a girls’ track and field coach at Mt. Pleasant for 40 years. This year, Hutchcroft also adds Daryl Shy as an assistant coach. Shy has been an unofficial jumps coach for 14 years.
Together, the coaching staff and athletes will be working hard for an even better season.
“One thing we will be trying hard to do is find some more potential state meet scoring events,” Hutchcroft said. “Although we finished sixth, we only scored in four events. If we want to move up into the top five, which is our goal, we have to find some more scoring events somewhere.”
They start working toward that when they open the outdoor season on Tuesday, March 26, at the Iowa City High Relays.