Perhaps the warm spring will be a sign of things to come for some of the Lebanon County track & field teams as they get ready to start the 2016 season.
One team looking to maintain good fortune is three-time Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three champion Northern Lebanon - and once again, the Vikings are on every team's radar as the team to beat.
But right there with the Vikings is Cedar Crest, which certainly has a coach who's seen it all in 22nd-year head man Rob Bare. Then there's Elco and Lebanon, both with only a loss each last season, which also have high expectations.
Palmyra looks to turn things around in the Mid Penn Conference, looking to get back to competing with teams like Milton Hershey and Lower Dauphin.
Without further ado, here's a complete breakdown of what each team is striving to do for a successful season.
Coach: Nick Watt, seventh year
Last year’s record: 6-1
Key returners: Luke Fureman, throws; Lucas Imm, throws; Alan Cooper, throws/jump; Jesse Brownstien, vault; Huy Luu, vault; John Maldonado, jumps; Mariangelis Pagan, sprints; Derin Klick, distance; Trevor Armpriester, throws; Sadie Eisenhour, jumps; Dakota Morey, throws; Ramon Harris, sprints; Phillip Hilleshiem, jumps/distance; Julian Imm, middle distance; Juan Maldonado, jumps.
Promising newcomers: Patrick Bray, distance; Rapheal Martinez, sprints; Nick Bradley, throws; Jommo Gathara, middle distance.
Outlook: A big reason for a 6-1 season for the Cedars last season was their dominance in the pole vault, having five athletes in districts. The Cedars also had a lot of success in triple jumps and throwing. And this season, coach Nick Watt is expecting another big year for those events.
“We have three athletes that could potentially throw over 40 feet (in the shot) this year, we also are bringing back a lot of good throwers. So we have some depth coming back,” Watt said.
Watt also praised his pole vault coach Steve Richards.
“Steve’s phenomenal. We probably have one of the best coaches in the state,” Watt said. “He’s got a great group of kids and we consistently break records.”
Jesse Browstien and Huy Luu have their eyes on the boys record and look to hit the 15-foot mark. Juan Maldanado also returns after a strong freshman season, in which he earned a personal record in the triple jump last season.
One big loss the Cedars will have to overcome however is Jeronimo Rodriquez, who finished second in the 400 last year in states.
The bottom line of expectations from Watt this season is making sure his athletes believe in themselves.
“We can win,” Watt said. “We have talent at this school and we can compete if we put our mind to it. I think our kids are starting to realize this and are starting to enjoy themselves, too.”
Coach: Rob Bare
Last year’s record: 8-2
Key returners: Evan Horn, javelin; Jesse Cruise, mid-distance; Matt Royer, mid-distance; Luke Allwein, hurdles; Devon Bernard, hurdles; Chris Kelly, throws; David Santos, throws; Greg Munnion, throws; Jabin Joseph, jumps; Kobe Bolanos, sprints; Blake Thomson, sprints; Bryce Vukovich, distance.
Promising newcomers: Garrett deBien, throws; Cole Laney, multi events; Nick Felty, multi events; Adam Loehr, multi events; Adam Wolfe, distance; Josh Rudd, distance; Nick Blandy, distance.
Outlook: Yet another successful run was had last year by the Falcons, who had plenty of individual achievements to go around. And with coach Rob Bare continuing to lead the way, Cedar Crest isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
“I think the seniors have done a good job leading and we’ve got good numbers out,” Bare said. “So as long as that continues, we’ll be on the right path.”
One of those seniors is Evan Horn, recently coming off his final season on the basketball court. He will look to defend his league and district titles in the javelin, and look for more on the state level after a sixth-place finish last year. But his leadership is just as good as his athleticism, according to his coach.
“He gets along with every single person on the team,” Bare said. “That’s the other nice thing about Evan besides him being a phenomenal athlete. He’ll be dangerous for every team we face again this year.”
Jesse Cruise and Matt Royer also return in the middle distance races. Cruise finished with a 1:55 in the 800 and 4:20 in the 1600, while Royer finished with a 1:58 in the 800.
One of the many reasons for the Falcons’ long-term success is constantly producing primed newcomers. This year includes Garrett deBien in throws, Cole Laney, Nick Felty and Adam Loehr in multi events, and Adam Wolfe, Josh Rudd and Nick Blandy in distance.
“We've got a couple of good kids coming out. I like their athleticism,” Bare said. “I think you’re going to see our team do some good stuff come mid-April on.”
Coach: Sue Sutcliffe, 35th year
Last year’s record: 2-4
Key returners: Adam Fox, Derek Bosworth, Stanley Miller, Anthony Fratarole, Caleb Wenger, Lucas Bush, Nathan Ulrich
Promising newcomers: William Langan, Dominic MacMillan, Noah Myers, Matt Light, Cameron Hoch, Javiev Gonzalez Sanchez
Outlook: After an up-and-down season in 2015, the Little Dutchmen look to rebound in 2016 with a good amount of notable athletes returning.
"This year we have some talented seniors and underclassmen to help build depth in our program," said coach Sue Sutcliffe, who brings plenty of experience, returning for her 35th season. "We are hoping to have a competitive season and look forward to post-season competition."
Coach: Bob Miller
Last year’s record: 7-1
Key returners: Luke Darkes, hurdles; James Bidelspach, hurdles; Jared Harnish, distance; Ethan Anspach, sprinter, Austin Eldridge, Ryan Rolon and Blaine Troutman, 4x400 state qualifiers.
Promising newcomers: Tyler Horst, throws; Colton Lawrence, sprints, jumps; Grant Brubaker, sprints; Owen Nell, middle distance.
Outlook: Coming off a solid season with plenty of notable individual accomplishments, the expectations remain the same for the Raiders.
“With so many returners back, our expectation is to compete for that section championship,” Raiders coach Bob Miller said. “The biggest thing is getting over the hump of early-season shin splints, little strains and things like that. Once they do that and they have the heart to be champions, they’ll put themselves in position to be successful.”
Luke Darkes returns in the 110 HH, after qualifying for districts last year. Jared Harnish, coming off a great cross country season, returns for the 1600 and the 3200. The three of the dynamic 4x4 team (Austin Eldridge, Ryan Rolon and Blaine Troutman) return after qualifying for states last season.
Ethan Anspach is also expected to show some good potential heading into his senior season. Along with Anspach, three other Raiders are looking to make a big splash this season, including Tyler Horst in the throws, Colton Lawrence and Grant Brubaker in the sprints, and Owen Nell in the mid distance.
“Practices have been going really well in terms of work ethic,” Miller said. “The kids are showing a lot of heart to push through things and expand their comfort zone, and really try to push beyond what they think they’re capable of so they can be better than where they started the season.”
Coach: Mark Opreska
Last year’s record: 8-0
Key returners and newcomers: Klayton Adams, distance; Eric Herb, distance; Colton Herb, distance/hurdles; Jordan Berger, distance; Damian DiAngelis, jumps; William Fellows, jumps; Christian Trader, jumps; Dakota Leonhard, throws; Matt Vines, throws.
Outlook: There’s no question who the team to beat is in 2016 – that is the three-time defending Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three champion Vikings, and coach Mark Opreska says there’s no looking back.
“We can’t afford to take a step backward ever,” Opreska said. “We constantly assume we need to get better every year, and that’s the terrifying part of it because we know we will reach a peak.”
But plenty of key athletes are back for the Vikings, in hopes of earning their fourth straight title. Dakota Leonhard and Matt Vines lead the way in the throws, which should continue to be a key strength this season. Both Leonhard and Vines have not only a districts appearance, but also a state appearance in their resumes. Klayton Adams looked strong in the mile in NL’s recent scrimmage.
Another name to look out for is Christian Trader, following in the footsteps of his brother Dominic, in the jumps. Another key note is Colton Herb, who is adding the hurdles to his work load this season, after a successful year in the distance races.
What’s one secret in the midst of the memorable run for the Vikings? Avoiding the three “dreaded I’s” – injury, Illness, and Ineligibility.
“Those are the three components that can destroy a season so quickly,” Opreska said. “One missing assignment, one person to get sick, and not going through proper conditioning and training can lead to anyone being out of the lineup, and we always want to be cautious of that.”
And so the quest for number four begins.
Coach: Danny Byrd
Last year’s record: 3-5
Key returners: Mason Cooper, discus and shot; Alex Hoffsmith, javelin.
Outlook: Although it was an up-and-down season in 2015, reinforcements are coming in to begin a turnaround.
“We still had some talent, but just didn’t have the depth as some as our competitors,” Palmyra coach Danny Byrd said. “Once again, this is going to be a young team, and a lot of newcomers. I think we’ll improve with them as well.”
Two of the athletes who will lead the way is Mason Cooper in the discus and shot, and Alex Hoffsmith in the javelin, who was the runner-up in districts last season.
“He’s really smart and coachable,” Byrd said. “He can see it and he really understands how to make the small little change, and he’s competitive.”
But for the team overall, Byrd knows his team will be tested early and often.
“They’re going to need to grow up quick. Every meet is going to be a dog fight,” he said. “I just hope they learn how to compete. If we can do that and improve as the season goes along, I think it’s going to be a good one.”