Panther girls back on the track, eyes on Des Moines
With a number of very talented athletes returning, the Mt. Pleasant girls’ track and field team has high hopes for its season, and every reason to expect a strong showing in Des Moines.
“We will be very strong, with everyone back from a team that finished fourth in Class 3A with 42 points,” Head Coach Dave Hutchcroft said. “We think we can improve in several events and move up to the top three this year.”
The Panthers have 17 letterwinners returning — including 11 state qualifiers, eight state placewinners and three state champions.
The team is led by a trio of hurdlers: senior Leslie Taylor and juniors Kelsi Phipps and Hannah Becker.
Taylor is a five-time state champion. She has claimed the last two Class 3A long jump titles and is part of the two-time defending state champion shuttle hurdle team, which has set school and state records.
She also claimed an individual 100-meter hurdle title in her sophomore year; she was fourth last season.
At the Drake Relays, Taylor was also a placewinner in the long jump and 100-meter hurdles.
Phipps has anchored the shuttle hurdle relay to both of its state titles. She placed third at state in the 100-meter hurdles as a freshman, and moved up to second place last season. She was also a placewinner in the 100-meter hurdles at Drake as a sophomore.
Becker has also been a part of the two state-winning shuttle hurdle teams in as many years on the varsity track team. She was also a state placewinner in the 400-meter hurdles, taking seventh in the event last season, and a Drake Relays qualifier in the 100 hurdles for the last two years.
The relay’s fourth hurdler, Amy Buckert, graduated after the season. However, the Panthers bring back sophomore Sidney Taylor, who ran a leg of the shuttle hurdle in many meets during her freshman year.
Along with their hurdlers, the Panthers return Mary Wester, a junior who took fourth in shot put at state last year and was a state qualifier in discus. She was also a Drake Relays qualifier in shot put.
All four of the runners from the 4x800-meter relay that placed fifth at state are also back this season: senior Chloe Haffarnan, junior Ellie Conrad, junior Natalie Ita and senior Taryne Shull.
Haffarnan was not only the anchor of the 4x800, but also qualified for state in the 1,500-meter run and the open 800.
She has qualified in the 800-meter run all three years so far, and in her final season, she looks to complete the streak — or even take it one step farther and place in the event.
Like Haffarnan, Conrad was a qualifier in the 1,500 last season and looks to have an impact in distance races again this year.
With so many strong returners, the Panthers are looking for another impressive season. But injuries can change all that quickly.
“A big key for the season is to stay healthy and injury free,” Hutchcroft said.
The team lost one athlete to injury before the season even started — senior Natalie Myers, a middle distance runner, had knee surgery after an injury during basketball season.
But overall, the outlook for the season remains bright.
“Field events, hurdles, and distance events will be solid for us this year,” Hutchcroft said. “We need to find out who our top sprinters are, and at this time we are still looking.”
They have quite a few athletes to choose from.
“We have 48 girls out for track this year, which is the largest group we have had since I have been head coach here,” Hutchcroft said.
Hutchcroft has been head coach at Mt. Pleasant for 21 years, and has 43 years overall coaching girls track.
He is assisted by Alan Peck (distance), Daryl Shy (jumps) and Mallory Henderson (sprints).